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Art, Activism, And The Appointment Of Mr Paresh Rawal As The NSD Chairman

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Paresh Rawal, an actor-turned-BJP politician, was appointed as the latest chairman of the National School of Drama (NSD). But, is it enough that he is an accoladed actor? Read further to sink a little deeper into the meaning of this ‘political’ appointment.

Art is the parent and child of activism.

No art is apolitical or born in isolation to economic and socio-political context. For centuries, theatre, on its face value has been an entertainer and soiree for the bourgeoisie. While plays in Central London in the 1800s portrayed merchants and witches, kings and conquests, somewhere in a little town, a group of working-class Irish men and women took to street theatre, to resist oppression and imperialism.

Does this mean that the art in fine theatres is apolitical? No, they are not. They depict society and politics that was glamorous and lavish and also exclusive, instrumental in preserving the status quo and conservatism. So, art always makes a statement.

The beauty in theatre lies in its ability to adapt to changes, to unite masses and reform ideologies. Theatre thrives in democracy.  So, how will the recent appointment of former BJP MP Mr Paresh Rawal as NSD Chairperson affect expression at NSD? A linear approach gives a simple answer—he is distinguished, accoladed by the Government, and a gifted actor. But you cannot look at his appointment in isolation. Theatre responds to power structures; it gives space for dissent and enquiry. So, is Mr Paresh Rawal going to make this space more inclusive, or is he just a crony political appointment to control a powerful institution?

Mr Paresh Rawal has often been a controversial figure in the news. Apart from the shameless Islamophobia and casteism that he expresses through his social media, he has openly made misogynistic statements against scholars who differ from his vengeful politics.

Mr. Paresh Rawal’s comments on Arundhati Roy on Twitter

When his misogyny was called out in several tweets, he refused to apologise. His statement was apparently ‘a message of peace’. It is unacceptable that such a bigoted little man should become chairperson of one of the finest Drama schools in India.

"A message of peace"

His affiliation to a party that prides itself on communalism, casteism and sexism, dismantles the innate dissenting nature of theatre. His appointment of seems like an attempt to erase subaltern voices and dictate narratives that uphold ideals of Hindu Cis-Male Brahmanical hegemony. It attempts to separate it from social movements and political discourses, as though people are nothing but blank canvasses.

Mr. Paresh Rawal brazenly displays Islamophobia.

Several street play societies of Delhi University have expressed concern on the appointment of the actor turned right-wing politician.

Mr Paresh Rawal no doubt has been working in the industry for decades and has also been awarded the national award. However, the question here is not regarding his credibility as an actor in the film industry, but as an actor in the modern Indian theatre and its management.

NSD chairperson’s position throughout history has been filled by NSD alumnus as they have a better knowledge of theatre and culture. Having a conversation on this issue is essential as the position of the chairperson is highly constitutional. Making such political appointments the government is not just disrespecting art but also risking the future of modern Indian theatre. Selection done on the basis of political background isn’t fair or just to the entire theatre community,”  said Kshitij, the Street play society of Gargi College.

Since 1975, NSD has been an independent school, moulding some of the finest actors and scripts in modern Indian Theatre. Mr Waman Kendre who served as director between 2013 to 2018, was an alumnus of NSD and has been one of the frontrunners of Dalit Theatre movement in Maharashtra.

Can Mr Paresh Rawal assure us that art at NSD will continue to question hierarchy and patriarchy? That his conservative approach towards sexuality will not hinder sexual exploration through art? Can he promise us, that when dissenting Bahujan voices thunder through the roof, he will not silence them because his party said so?

Note: This article was originally published here.

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