NGMA Mumbai censorship row: Amol Palekar says curator had been instructed not to allow anti-govt remarks

Varsha Torgalkar

Feb 10, 2019 23:43:15 IST

Veteran actor and painter Amol Palekar in a press conference at Patrakar Sangh in Pune on Sunday spoke on the incident at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai in which he was interrupted during his speech after he criticised the government.

Palekar said that the curator of the programme had told him and his wife Sandhya Gokhale that she had received clear instructions from the NGMA director that nothing should be spoken against the government during the event.

On Friday, Palekar was speaking at the opening of an exhibition named ‘Inside the Box’, showcasing works of legendary painter Prabhakar Barwe for the first time in 24 years after his death, at NGMA. He was raising questions about why the advisory committee, the body which decides on exhibitions at NGMA and is comprised of artistes, has been dissolved and why bureaucrats would be taking decisions about art exhibitions.

That is when Jesal Thacker, curator of the programme and from Bodhana Arts and Research Foundation (which was holding the exhibition), cut him short. Suhas Bahulikar, former chairman of the advisory committee, also asked him to stop his speech.

Amol Palekar with his wife Sandhya Gokhale at the press conference in Pune. News18

Amol Palekar with his wife Sandhya Gokhale at the press conference in Pune. News18

At the press conference, Palekar said, “During the discussion after the programme, I had asked Jesal why she did not tell me earlier that I needed to get my speech approved from her. In that case, I would have refused to chair the programme. At that time, Jesal said that she had clear instructions from the director that nothing should be spoken against the government during the programme.”

Gokhale, who was also at the press conference, said she could see Thacker had a lot of pressure on her and she succumbed to it. But Gokhale pointed out, “Thacker, however, told the media that she did not have pressure put on her."

Palekar further said, “I started my speech by talking about the aesthetics of works of Prabhakar Barwe and talked about it for ten minutes. Later, I raised a few questions. The advisory committee, members of which are local artistes, has been dissolved and now, decisions will be taken by the director, who is a bureaucrat. Nobody knows who took this decision.”

He added, “NGMA has five floors. Exhibitions of paintings used to be held at all five floors. But from now on, only the fifth floor will be available for new artistes to showcase their art or even the new work of senior artistes. The space at the fifth floor is relatively smaller. NGMA in Delhi and Bangalore galleries would showcase at other four floors too.”

"The advisory committee had decided to showcase works of senior artistes Sudhir Patwardhan, Meholi Gobhai, both Mumbai-based painters of international repute. But these plans have been cancelled without giving any particular reason.”


He further said, “After the programme, Anita Rupavataram, who has recently taken charge as director of NGMA, told me that I should have informed her about what I was going to say before the programme began. So I asked her whether she wanted to pre-censor my speech. I am talking about freedom of expression. Though she did not say it clearly, she implied that this is the government gallery and I should not have raised questions against it."

"But I felt the need to raise the questions as the government gallery is made by taxpayers' money.”

He also said, “In the same conversation, I also said that I am thankful to the government for showing magnanimity to exhibit the work of Barwe. But she retorted, saying she did not need this backhanded compliment.”

Gokhale said, “The director said that she is not connected with art and she did not know about Barwe either.” Palekar added, “These people, who are not connected with art, are going to take decisions now? This is a serious issue for us as art connoisseurs and artistes.” Gokhale said that the censorship issue is not unique to this government but has been existing since 1971, when Cinematography Act came into existence. She did, however, add, “But the severity and frequency of censorship has increased after 2014.”

Palekar also said that he was not expecting to be cut short this way. And he also did not expect to be interrupted soon after he criticised the government for cancelling the speech of senior writer Nayantara Sahgal. Sahgal, who was invited to give the inaugural speech at Marathi Sahitya Sammelan held last month, was asked not to come after her speech criticising the government got circulated before the festival. To support her, Palekar and many writers, two weeks ago, held a program in Mumbai in which Palekar criticised the state.

Palekar and Gokhale are happy that 15-20 artistes thanked Palekar for raising the issue at the NGMA programme.

Updated Date: Feb 10, 2019 23:43:15 IST