Film bans, censorship and death threats — the veteran actor says it like it is!

Naseeruddin Shah is known to speak his mind. This actor doesn’t mince words or thoughts — a rare quality these days. While there’s plenty on his mind all the time, right now, he’s irked about Nude, a Marathi film that features him, and the ire it’s facing, owing to its title and supposed content. In a conversation with BT, the actor makes a terse point about how the definition of freedom of speech has changed over the years, and how we have lost our sense of humour with it. Excerpts:

Nude was dropped from the list of films that were screened in the Indian Panorama section at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which led to an outrage. What do you make of it?

It’s absurd! The reason they gave, finally, after much begging, is that it’s an incomplete film, which is absolute rubbish because several times, films are sent to festivals as work-in-progress copies. I don’t think anyone even knows what the film is all about. They’ve simply recoiled at the mention of the title. I think it’s an appropriate title and the film deserves to be seen. It’s arbitrary and scary that the government has now decided to assume the role of a censor.


Naseeruddin Shah



What do you think has triggered all this?

Nude has not even been seen by the Censor Board, they’ve just recently passed the trailer. I feel Pahlaj Nihalani was only a mouthpiece. That his reasoning was completely idiotic is a different matter. This is an age of moral policing and prudery. Look at the rising number of young couples being harassed on the roads, or even the way Mithali Raj and Priyanka Chopra were trolled for merely wearing a skirt and a dress. Sania Mirza has been a regular target for these people. We live in scary times. Are these the things we should be getting habituated to? We can’t expect the film industry to come out in support of movies like S Durga and Nude, can we?

But during the Udta Punjab controversy, sections of the film industry did come out in support of it…

(Cuts in) Let’s see how many come out in support of Padmavati. No one has spoken yet. Just how thinskinned have we become that we take offense against just about anything. Is our faith so small that it gets endangered by a movie? Are our beliefs that fragile that the world will start believing a movie, and not what has come down as legend? How insecure are we? Today, when thousands are rising in protest, I wonder how easily our sensibilities can be flamed.

What runs across your mind when you hear threats to maim and behead people being made on public platforms?

What is frightening is that none of these people have really bothered to see the film. They are just determined to crush anything that has a whiff of an independent sensibility. For God’s sake, it’s just a movie! That is the trouble with our country. Our audience swallows so much crap because they think that the actors and technicians were out on a holiday while making a movie. I am not a part of Padmavati, and neither have I seen it, but I’ve seen Bhansali’s work. He puts his all into the film.

Most people who’re commenting about Nude also have probably not seen the film. Do you think it’s a reactionary syndrome where people act merely on what they hear?

It’s beyond comprehension for me. Probably, it’s just the title in case of Nude. These days, it’s difficult to make a small film like Nudewithout facing issues like money and time crunches. We expect a more enlightened reaction from the government. People believe a film like S Durga is defaming the goddess, as if there is no other girl by that name. There are so many books that mock the Bible and aspects of Christianity. We had also banned Jesus Christ Super Star (a stage musical that faced a ban for about 25 years). We’re the protectors of every government’s faith, or so it seems, whether they care or not. Some people are convinced that what they are doing — threats of arson and all — is right. They are misguided people. I’m sure we have an equal number of people who feel alienated from this kind of philosophy.

Years ago, we could make a film like Bombay with relative ease, although it also had its share of controversies. Do you think one can attempt a film like that today?

Today, you can’t even shoot the last scene of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, let alone a film like Bombay. Why? It’s because we’ve clearly lost our sense of humour. What everyone talks about till date is Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s last scene. You wouldn’t be able to shoot it if it were to be made today because of self-censorship, the threat of someone damaging your set, or for that matter, the fear of your film not releasing.

Come to think of it: several interesting films have been screened at IFFI, but it was S Durga and Nude’s elimination that grabbed headlines.

The controversies around the festival have done films like S Durga and Nude some good. Everyone is at least talking about them. People were curious about Nude anyway. It’s heartening to see the way the Marathi filmmakers are rallying for the film. And it’s not surprising. Neither is the fact that not one filmmaker (from Bollywood) has come forth to speak for Padmavati. Maybe it’s difficult to do that.

Do you think all these episodes will ever let any filmmaker present an independent interpretation of literature, culture or a popular thought in our movies?

At the moment, it seems difficult, though this can’t last. These two films (S Durga and Nude) deserved to be seen internationally. Now, it’s to be seen whether they are barred completely from being sent to any film festival. I won’t be too surprised if that happens. The definition of freedom of speech has changed. Now, anything dissenting is seen as abuse of freedom of speech. The space for rational debate has shrunk. It’s not possible anymore. I posted a statement by Albert Einstein once on a social media page, which had something to do with war. The amount of abuse I got for it was astounding. I can understand what happened when I commented on Rajesh Khanna, he has a fan-following. While I don’t take back what I said, I apologised to Dimple Kapadia and her daughter (Twinkle Khanna). These days, you just can’t speak. It’s scary.

Naseeruddin Shah and Satish Shah in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro


Still from

S Durga

Still from Marathi film Nude