“I feel restless that no one in the audience said ‘let Palekar speak his mind’,” said the 74-year-old. He was invited by NGMA for the opening of an exhibition, Inside The Empty Box, held in memory of artist Prabhakar Barwe on Friday evening.
“I was sad that it took the orga- nisers 24 years to remember an artist such as Prabhakar Barwe and hold his retrospective. I was not allowed to speak against this injustice and was also not allowed to criticise the ministry of culture for scrapping the NGMA advisory committee. I was interrupted and told to restrict my speech to the artist,” he added. Palekar said he was told that as per the new director, four floors of NGMA would be used for displaying the works and the dome (fifth floor) will showcase only fresh exhibitions.
He said the artists’ advisory committee at NGMA had approved holding of retrospectives of three artists, of whom Barwe’s work was inaugurated. “But I came to know that without any communication to the committee, the next two retrospectives have been cancelled by Mumbai NGMA’S new director Anita Rupavataram. I wanted to raise these issues. How and when these decisions were taken, we wanted to know,” he said.rupavataram did not respond to repeated phone calls for a comment on the issue.
Gadanayak, however, said: “Some artists have expressed their apprehensions about availability of less space for temporary exhibitions and retrospectives. The NGMA is deliberating on suggestions received from artists and a final decision will be taken shortly in consultation with all the stakeholders.”
On Friday, after Palekar was told to “stick to” the theme of the event, he continued with his speech and mentioned writer Nayantara Sahgal, who was invited to speak at a literary convention recently but the invitation was withdrawn because what she was going to say “was slightly critical of the situation around us.” “Are we creating the same situation here?” he asked the organisers of the event after being interrupted. The curator of the gallery, Jesal Thacker, interrupted Palekar during his speech, asking him to stick to talking about the event – Barwe’s retrospective. Palekar said he was “restlessness” and “hurt” over the manner in which he was frequently interrupted during the speech.
When Thacker asked Palekar to speak about the event, he could be heard saying the video: “I am going to talk about the same. Are you applying censorship to that?”
He was, however, interrupted again by another person, who was heard saying: “This is not needed at the moment, sorry... The function is about Prabhakar Barwe, please stick to that.”
The filmmaker, accompanied by his wife Sandhya Gokhale, said on Saturday that he was not provided any brief by the gallery on what he should speak about, and the question of “propriety”, as citied by organisers, did not arise. “If I had been informed earlier about what I was supposed to speak on, I would then have had the option of not accepting the invitation,” he added. “It is shocking. Propriety of my comments is being objected to by NGMA. As I was talking about NGMA at their own venue and invited by the gallery itself, how can it be improper?” he said.
Palekar’s wife said no one came forward to speak in favour of Palekar after the incident. “In the past 24 hours, no one has come forward and spoken about this incident. We are getting personal messages from various people pointing out the stand we took, but no one has come out in public,” she said at Saturday’s news briefing.
Palekar sought to draw a parallel between the incident involving him and several earlier alleged attacks by right-wing organisations on artists, social thinkers and public personalities who criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.
The Congress said the incident showed the central government was interfering in the field of arts. “Somebody is slammed with sedition; somebody is not let to speak. This is the ‘new India’. Narendra Modi talked of these ‘Acche Din’ in his speeches,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal told ANI.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule said: “This is a sign of an undeclared emergency in the country. Our democracy holds freedom of speech as a fundamental right of the citizens. Who is shooting guns from the shoulder of the ministry of culture?”
The Shiv Sena, the BJP’S ally in the Maharashtra government, too criticised the Centre. “It was cruel to interrupt him [Palekar]. The organisers had the liberty to put a disclaimer of disagreement after his speech,” said Neelam Gorhe, Shiv Sena spokesperson.
(With inputs from agencies)