In a candid interview with The Wire, veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah says, "I am not afraid, I am not anxious, I am angry.”
Shah, who is not only one of the best actors in India but is someone who does not hold back from expressing his views and engaging in current issues.
In the interview, Shah is blunt and forthright, covering a wide range of subjects, such as the ongoing anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests, the rise of communalism and why the big names of the film industry remain silent.
Shah says the views he holds are not because he is a Muslim, and that he's never considered singling himself out as a Muslim in India before. His identity had never been an obstacle in any way before.
His family has been in the ranks of the army and administrators in the Indian government at different times, and never in his life has he ever felt that being a Muslim was a handicap. Now, he points out, he is reminded of that identity all the time, which is very worrying.
Shah argues he doesn't need reassurances that Muslims in India should not worry; he is not worried. If living here for 70 years does not prove that he's an Indian then he doesn't know what will.
He continues and says that the rise of India’s young against the current dispensation is amazing, he says. “Even in the film industry, the younger actors and directors have risen against this law,” he adds. The silence of the big-name stars is not surprising, he says – they feel they have a lot to lose. But even Deepika Padukone has a lot to lose, he argues, and she did come out in public to show her solidarity.
He then said he lauded the courage of Deepika for visiting JNU. However, he didn't extend the same kindness to another member of the fraternity.
"Someone like Anupam Kher has been very vocal. I don’t think he needs to be taken seriously. He’s a clown. Any number of his contemporaries from NFD and FTII can attest to his sycophantic nature. It’s in his blood, he can’t help it," he shared. Ouch!
On being asked about the ongoing protests in India, Shah says, "The youth has suddenly risen. They've suddenly realised that they've been trampled upon. Just today I read in the paper that the education budget has been massively cut. It's because we're spending that money on other things, like redoing the NRC. But even that is a futile exercise as it totally flopped according to the ruling party as there were several hundred thousand Hindus as well. Then they've created the escape clause of the CAA, where citizenship will be granted to you if you're a non-Muslim."
"The important flaw one notices is that it excludes Muslims, which is not surprising. But I did not expect the centre to be so blatant about it. What people haven't noticed is the more insidious side of it, that according to them repression only happens in Muslim countries, there's no mention of Myanmar and there's no mention of Sri Lanka."
Since the interview has aired, Kher has responded to Shah's comments:
"I have never said anything bad about you but now, I will. Even after achieving so much in life, you have spent it in frustration. If you can criticise Dilip Kumar sahab, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Shah Rukh Khan and Virat Kohli, then I'm sure I'm in great company. None of them have ever taken your statements seriously as we all know that due to the substances you have been taking all these years, you don't realise the difference between what is right and what is wrong," he said.
He further said that if Shah gets "some headlines" by criticising him, then it would be his gift to him.
"And do you know what is there in my blood? Hindustan. Just understand this."