Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION -

“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,” he­pa­vataram 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)

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