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'This dishonesty is despicable'

Deepa Mehta speaks to Subhash K Jha on the aftermath of the Salman Rushdie fiasco at the Jaipur Literary Festival

Your friend and creative collaborator Salman Rushdie was not allowed to attend the Jaipur literary festival. What do you have to say about the issue?

That isn't true. Mr Rushdie was not disallowed from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival. He was lied to and misinformed by the police and local politicians. He was actively discouraged from attending the festival and told his presence would be dangerous for him and the festival. This dishonesty is despicable. The detailed planning of this devious farce for electoral political gain is what is totally creepy.

Deepa, you have also repeatedly been a victim of cultural and political tyranny. Does that give you a sense of empathy with Mr Rushdie?
Any human being with even an iota of sense would feel rightfully indignant for Mr Rushdie. Empathy is a given.

Your film Fire, and later 1947: Earth, was gagged ... Do you see any radical difference between literary and cinematic gagging?
All gagging, be it in literature, cinema or art is identical. It's referred to as lynching of the freedom of expression.

In a way, your destiny as a creative artiste runs parallel to Mr Rushdie's. Your film Water was not allowed to be filmed in Varanasi ...Mr Rushdie not allowed to be seen or heard in Jaipur. Do you see a pattern there?
I am not a great believer in destiny. The point is, despite the protests, Water did get made and despite all the protests, Mr Rushdie will be welcomed and celebrated in the land of his birth by folks, who appreciate the written word and are not small-minded bigots � other choice adjectives also come to mind but we'll let that be. As the ad for the freedom of expression goes, they can burn books. They cannot silence his voice.

You've now collaborated with Mr Rushdie on Midnight's Children. How do you think the recent controversies surrounding the author would impact the film in India?
Midnight's Children is chosen as a Booker of the Bookers. It's a novel that is deeply loved by millions. Its author has often said that the book is his 'love letter to India'. I think the film captures Mr Rushdie's deep affection for India.

Even Midnight's Children couldn't be shot in India. Any regrets?
None at all. The film spans from 1917 to 1977. The urban Indian landscape has changed so greatly. It would have been difficult to find the locations we needed for the film in India.

Both Mira Nair and you wanted to shoot your current films partly in Pakistan, but couldn't. Do you feel it is becoming progressively tougher for artistes in the so-called Third World to express themselves?
We never wanted to shoot Midnight's Children in Pakistan. After the failed attempt of trying to film Earth in Lahore, we didn't even consider it. It depends on what the artist wants to express, and what category the artist falls into � NRI or not, controversial or not, influential or not, kow-towing to the West or not, if your father-in-law's grand nephew is owed a favour by a minister or not. It gets complicated and messy in India.

Do you think the West is more tolerant to creative freedom than India and the Orient?
I don't know if tolerant is the correct word. Creative freedom is a given in most western countries.

What is the progress with the post-production of Midnight's Children? When do you intend to release it?
We're getting there and intend to release it in October 2012.

Do you think you would face problems in releasing Midnight's Children in India?
None at all.

Being Rushdie in India 2012
Rushdie was due to appear at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2012. However, after protests from some Muslim groups who called for the controversial author to be banned from entering the country, he cancelled his visit to India. "I have now been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to 'eliminate' me," he said.  Rushdie later tweeted 'I've investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.' A proposed video link session between Rushdie and the Jaipur Literature Festival was cancelled at the last minute due to government pressure.
Four participating authors � Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar � who at the festival read out excerpts from Rushdie's banned novel, The Satanic Verses, allegedly on the advise of the festival organizers abruptly left Jaipur.

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