Nandita Das: Don't think freedom of expression ever been so threatened

After superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan stirred the hornet's nest with their comments on the growing intolerance in the country, critically-acclaimed actress and filmmaker Nandita Das says curbs on freedom of expression are taking a "dangerous" turn and speaking up against such issues is the only way out.

Nandita Das
Nandita Das. Pic/IANS

The actress shared that the country needs to stand up and take a stance to save the democracy from fading away in the swirl of protests.

"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 time to speak up and when there are more of us speaking up then nobody is isolated," Nandita told IANS on the sidelines of Film Bazaar here.

"A lot of my friends are telling me not to say too much, they are scared for my life. Why do I need to feel scared to speak my mind? But this level of fear I have not seen before and I think we all have to come together and save this democracy that we have taken for granted," she added.

A wave of dissent has seeped into the country with many people expressing their opinions on the "extreme intolerance" in the country. After Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan ruffled feathers over his remarks that his wife Kiran Rao had discussed moving out of India in view of growing intolerance.

Taking notice of these controversies, Nandita is still hopeful for betterment as she feels that not everything is so grim and disappointing.

"We have to remember that there are a few people screaming out loud and they do not represent the whole country. I think the country is still secular, I think most people would want peace and are happy to co-exist with others who maybe different from them in some way or another," she said.

Nandita, who had faced protests over her socially moving and bold films like "Fire", asserts that the problem is not new, but has intensified with time.

"Sadly, we are self-censoring ourselves. In the last one year things have become much worse. When Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M. M. Kalburgi are murdered in cold blood for defending free speech and rational thinking, it is unbelievable," she said.

The actress added that she feels "personally violated" when artists' freedom of expression is curbed.

"I feel personally violated when M. F. Husain's paintings are vandalized or the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan's book is banned. What is happening to this country? Every second day you are hearing something like this... Voices are being silenced. In a democracy you have to have a space for dissent," she said.

Nandita has travelled across the globe with her work both on and off the silver screen.

Her films like "Earth" and "Bawandar" have been lauded at home turf as well as on the foreign shores.

So how has the image of India changed internationally with the protests?

"They are shocked because they think ours is a very pluralist and diverse society. While we are economically a developing country, culturally we are rich, but by being so conservative and intolerant, we are telling the world that we are regressing and not progressing," said Nandita, who is busy with her next project based on the life of Pakistani short story writer Sadat Hassan Manto.

According to her, the focus should be on painting an honest, instead of a good picture on the global map.

"Every country has its good and bad, so we need to be more honest in the portrayal of our country. I too have had my share of attacks over time during the release of 'Fire', shooting of 'Water' and the marketing of 'Firaaq'," she asserts.

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