Paresh Rawal, who is preparing to play the PM in his next production, clears the air on arguments of sycophancy and the much-hyped intolerance debate
On December 18, actor and Member of Parliament, Paresh Rawal tweeted, “If one has problem (sic) with Shahrukh don’t see the film but don’t STOP OTHERS. That’s UNDEMOCRATIC!”
The statement was in response to news of some sections of viewers boycotting Shah Rukh Khan’s just released film; a reaction to a comment he made during a television interview in November about India being intolerant.
Although he stood up for the fellow actor, the BJP MP, who won the Ahmedabad East seat in May last year, believes that the “intolerance debate” sweeping the country is unwarranted and unnecessary. “It’s as if before 2014, there was some sort of Ram Rajya. As though, nothing like this happened before,” says the 61-year-old, famous for his roles in the Hera Pheri franchise and Welcome, on the phone from Delhi. “You can’t generalise. For instance, take the case of Rodney King, the American taxi driver who was killed by cops in California. Now you can’t say that all of America is racist. So, because of a few stray incidents of intolerance, you can’t say India is intolerant. And, when people like SRK and Aamir Khan say these things, people take notice. It spoils our image in the world.”
We point out that even Congress President Sonia Gandhi recently marched against intolerance and told all Congress members that she wouldn’t tolerate those who didn’t march with her. Rawal’s voice takes a serious tone. “Listen carefully. During Emergency, offices of the vernacular press in Gujarat, like the Gujarat Samachar, were burnt down. Who was in government then? And these people talk about tolerance. They have no moral right to talk about it.”
The actor, loved for his comic roles, which he plays with deadpan precision, has always been appreciated for his bluntness and honesty. For instance, in November, during a party worker’s meet in Ahmedabad, he said Hindu religious places were among the dirtiest, and once said in an interview that Pakistani TV shows were superior to Indian films. He is still as honest, “What is wrong in saying that? It’s not about being outspoken, it’s about telling the truth. We pray at these places, but don’t keep them clean. It was an extension of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, asking people to keep places clean. And their TV shows are better, ya! We should learn from them. If something is good, I will praise it.”
He doesn’t shy away from criticising his own party and its allies, either. For instance, when Shiv Sena called for a ban on the performance of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali in Mumbai. “Even at that time, I had tweeted that singers/cricketers/artists are not throwing bombs at us. They are coming to spread goodwill. That was a government decision. This is my personal view,” says Rawal.
The actor, who is busy with his Parliamentarian duties and shooting for Hera Pheri 3, is also working on the script of a movie where he will play a man he looks up to, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But, the scripting is taking time, as Rawal says, “It’s hard to write a script based on a person who has just started the main part of his career.” For now, it’s all about observing the PM and his characteristics. “We had told him we are doing this, and he said, ‘Fine, do it’.”
This “observation” includes listening to and watching Modi’s speeches and doing some photo reading. But, Rawal has also said that he doesn’t want to mimic Modi, and instead capture his “spirit”, as he knows he can never really look like the Prime Minister. The film will be the second movie to be produced by the actor after OMG. But, some people may think he is trying to ingratiate himself to the PM. He scoffs, “You think Modi needs me? He doesn’t need any of us. He doesn’t need buttering, because he can do it all on his own. I joined politics because I felt there was a possibility to change things in India under Mr Modi’s leadership,” he says, admitting that he is taken in by the PM’s straightforwardness and visionary stance. He adds that Modi’s biggest plus point is that he is “not corrupt”. “You will never see a single relative of his anywhere around him or the office. He doesn’t believe in all this.”
Talk of the criticism the PM receives about his many foreign tours and Rawal is quick to come to the defence. “There is a design and special thought behind the travel. We live in a very volatile neighbourhood, and need to be on good terms with different countries. It’s a matter of foreign policy.” He has an interesting explanation for why the media is intent on painting the PM in bad light. “It’s because earlier, free liquor and gifts were given if you travelled with the Prime Minister. Under Modiji, all that has stopped. So, people like making up stories.” But what about the grouse most Modi critics have — about him remaining silent on issues like the Dadri lynching? “He spoke when he had to, and he doesn’t need to speak every time. As for Dadri, when the government spokesperson spoke, he was Mr Modi’s representative as well.”
Ask him about his parody Twitter account — run by @Babu_bhaiyaa, whose tweet about Kirti Azad’s suspension from the BJP on Wednesday, read: Now shri Shatrughan Sinha ji waiting for his Christmas Gift. #kirti” — and Rawal laughs.
“I don’t know who is behind it. But this guy is not uncouth or obnoxious. He is witty and decent. I quite like it.”