Why Art And Artists Are More Important Than Patriotism

Posted by Sarath Sunil in Culture-Vulture, Media, Politics, Society
January 15, 2017

“After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in aesthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.” – Albert Einstein.

It is definitely not a great time to be a public figure who criticises the government in India. So nobody was surprised when renowned Malayalam film director Kamal was immersed in a flurry of insults, advice and polite suggestions on relocating elsewhere on social media.

I was not ready to accept that our society had become so sensitive and insecure about its leaders that it would rather lose an artist. But that doubt was quickly put to rest by the following statement from the BJP leadership in Kerala and the overwhelming support it received even in a state which is considered relatively liberal. (When I say leadership, I mean the BJP State General Secretary made the following comment, in his capacity as BJP’s General Secretary of the state).

“People like Kamal should leave the country if they are not interested in living here.”

Now this is not the first time we have heard this, and it is not necessarily a political problem, and it should not be associated with political parties in case of most countries. But BJP has been vehemently against artistic freedom and freedom of expression.

Take the case of Fawad Khan and other Pakistani actors who had to leave India, or Karan Johar who was bullied into an apology for coming out in support of them or Anurag Kashyap who got so used to the bullying ever since he took up the censorship issue of Udta Punjab and decided that he could take more, for standing up for the right cause.

This is like the Japanese Internment, if we actually compare the timelines, and adjust for decreasing human stupidity over the years, this is as primitive as the internment in the 40s in the western world. While most of the citizens in the US still alive and had seen those days, still carry the shame of their primitive mindsets, the likes of Anurag Kashyap will not have to carry the shame, like the rest of the silent spectators in the future.

We live in a globalised world, and we have to open our gates to foreigners just like they have opened theirs to us. That is how a better, peaceful and understanding world is built. But to some of my fellow citizens, it is about their country and the insult they feel when they hear someone criticising its Prime Minister, is as much as the insult they feel when they hear someone speak against their country.

So are artists above the nation? I don’t consider this a thorough conclusion, but history tells us that they are indeed at least the exceptional ones.

How do we know our culture today? The country’s identity would have been completely lost if it hadn’t been for the works of great writers, painters and architects. We may not know their names, we may not revere them today, but unknowingly we revere their work and have labelled them ‘Indian’. Vyas was not an Indian when he wrote the Mahabharata, Valmiki was not a patriot when he wrote the Ramayana, Lord Krishna never delivered a speech on patriotism, Kautilya (Chanakya) was a known conspirator and traitor for the ruling monarch, before he helped Chandragupta Maurya become the king and gave us Arthashastra.

The nation was not in the equation when these people wrote some of the best pieces literature in their time. The entity ‘India’ did not exist during the time of these artists. So are these artists, Indian? I do not think they were aware of the future, that the land they lived would eventually become what is currently known as India. In fact, a logical mind would conclude that we conveniently made them our own, and took pride in their work. The art and the artists were not Indian; India claimed both of these because they made us feel better about ourselves. Kamal had given super hits in Kerala, much before the BJP had won a single seat in the state. I would claim Kamal, any day, as a Keralite, he makes me proud. Just four years ago, his role as a producer for the movie “Celluloid” won him the national award.

It is quite conceivable for someone with some imagination that the future generations, our descendants (or Aliens, who are out there!) would probably find out about us through some of our literature, cinema, TV and works of art. (Seriously concerned about what they would think of us when they come across “Sheila Ki Jawaani”). So in the grand scheme of things, I hate to break it to my fellow citizens, that a reputed piece of literature, or a classic movie from our era would hold up our identity in the future, much more than Modiji ever could.

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