The art of politics: Dampening creative expression 

New Delhi, Dec 25 (IANS) Ban this, ban that; censor this, censor that; protest over this, and that — the cinematic, art and creative worlds went through much unrest in 2015, with political and moralistic interventions. So much so that one began to wonder if politics is hampering people’s freedom to express. It is, assert prominent personalities of the film industry.

At Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book launch in Mumbai, black paint was smeared on veteran journalist and BJP member Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face – only because he invited Kasuri for the launch. The Shiv Sena tagged Kulkarni a “Pakistani agent” for the invite.

Then, who can forget the cancellation of the multi-city tour of Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali after resistance from the Shiv Sena. The singer was hurt by the politics being played over his concerts and told a news channel: “I’m a singer, I will talk about music, not politics.”

Director Imtiaz Ali felt both worlds needed to be responsible for each other – in other words, give each other space.

“Politics can tend to hamper art and films. We need to detach both elements, but, yes, politics and art need to be responsible for each other,” the “Highway” director told IANS.

The Shiv Sena also wanted to ban Pakistani actors Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan from working in Maharashtra. While Fawad started his Bollywood innings with “Khoobsurat”, Mahira will be seen with Shah Rukh Khan in “Raees”.

Adding to the unrest in the nation was a 139-day strike by students of Pune’s prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). The strike soon became nationwide with students of other premier institutes joining in and raising their voice in unison against the appointment of actor-BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as FTII chairman due to dodgy credentials for the post.

The students had also claimed that of the eight members appointed to the governing council ‘Persons of Eminence’ category, four have strong Hindu right-wing connections.

There was also the ‘award waapsi’ movement that struck a chord with the people at large with a host of well-known writers, filmmakers, scientists and historians returning their awards and honours as a mark of protest against events like the murder of Kannada rationalist scholar M.M. Kalburgi and the lynching of a man in Dadri on the national capital’s outskirts for allegedly eating beef.

And then, of course, came the debate over intolerance. Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were dragged into controversy over their comments on the subject.

Suppressing voices of artistes can only put a civilization into “grave danger”, said filmmaker Anurag Kashyap.

“The voice of dissent is being suppressed. For me, any civilization that tries to suppress the voice of the artiste or the writer is always in grave danger. I always say that every civilization and society has a duty to try and preserve its voice of artistes, of culture…. because if you don’t do that, it would be a very scary place to be in,” Kashyap had told IANS.

The filmmaker said it felt as though “there is this full sense of control waiting to be exercised”.

Popular actress Nandita Das, who has worked in Indian and even in a Pakistani film, said that in the last one year, the situation had become much worse for the creative fields.

“When M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar are murdered in cold blood for defending free speech and rational thinking, it is unbelievable. I feel personally violated when M.F. Husain’s paintings are vandalised or (Tamil writer) Perumal Murugan’s book is banned,” she said.

Stressing that voices are being silenced in our country, Nandita, who has worked in films like “Fire” and “Bawander”, said that in a democracy the citizens “have to have space for dissent”.

“What is happening to this country? See what happened at FTII. Voices are being silenced. In a democracy, you have to have a space for dissent. I don’t think freedom of expression has ever been so threatened. It is something which is dangerous and the only way to counter it is to not be fearful. It is to speak up and when there are more of us speaking up, then nobody is isolated,” Nandita said.

In a contradictory viewpoint, “Rang De Basanti” filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra opined that politics is not hampering the voice of the artistes and neither is the freedom of expression being suppressed.

“There are cross-sections where different waves of the society will meet each other… How can politics hamper art? It is completely up to us to let it hamper or not hamper. How can it be left to a third party, somebody who is not creating the art? Our freedom of expression is not at all suppressed,” Mehra told IANS.

“We are free to express in this country, as is the law of the country. We have freedom of speech. I would put myself as a citizen first, then as an artiste,” he added.

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