In 2015, when Aamir Khan voiced his concern against the rising wave of religious intolerance in the country, and supported creative people’s decision of returning their prestigious Sahitya Akademi Awards in protest against the Dadri lynching and the murder of author MM Kalburgi, the actor was branded as “anti-national” and even slapped with sedition charges.
That entire intolerance episode only showed us the ugly truth of speaking our mind and the heavy price a celebrity has to pay when he or she dares debate with the “accepted” views of the majority.
A similar narrative can now be found in art and cinema as often as it is in real life. From Udta Punjab, Indu Sarkar, and Padmaavat to Miyan Kal Aana, there have been a plenty of films and TV shows that have drawn condemnation from various political and religious groups for hurting people’s sentiments.
Sacred Games, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is the latest series to have fallen prey to political controversy. The show, which takes a close look at Bombay during its bloodiest communal riots, recently drew the ire of the Congress party for harming the reputation of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the show.
In fact, multiple cases were filed in different parts of the country against Netflix, the show’s producers and Nawazuddin, whose character of Ganesh Gaitonde calls the late politician a “fattu” (coward) in the show.
“Aaj kal toh case kisi bhi cheez par ho jaata hai,” says Nawaz as he visibly tries to mince his words, noting, “That’s why we have been more cautious about what we do of late.”
The actor admits that he has subconsciously learnt managing his opinions because the consequences of expressing them are dire nowadays. “I never pen my thoughts on social media because earlier when I tried to express them, I was abused. So, I just decided to step back. I have become thoughtless now,” he laughs.
Last year, a cryptic tweet of Nawaz created a furore in B-town as it hinted at him being discriminated in the film industry on the basis of his skin colour. Later, he had clarified that his post was a reply to someone and that the entire Hindi film industry was not racist.
Nawaz says he is not afraid of speaking his mind, but he has now decided to channelise his thoughts through his characters. “I’m not scared. I’m just doing my work. I think there are a lot of things that I want to say though my characters. There are so many things that I have said through my character of Saadat Hasan Manto in Manto which probably I couldn’t have said otherwise,” he said.
The actor further adds it’s a relief that at least India doesn’t censor internet content unlike films and TV shows, which have to adhere to censor’s guidelines. “The best part about acting on a digital platform is that you can freely express yourself and there’s a sense of freedom as there’s no censorship,” he says.
It was with his web debut in Netflix’s first Indian original series that Nawaz made quite the connection with his character of a crime lord, Ganesh Gaitonde. “It’s the first Indian series which has received international recognition. I never expected that it would get such a huge response,” says the actor.
Nawaz, who shot to fame with his portrayal of a foul-mouthed gangster Faizal Khan in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, says he never plays a gangster role while thinking of it as a typically criminal one. “I look at the characters through a human lens. I don’t like it when people categories my characters because I look at them as normal human beings. They can be good or bad,” he signs off.
(Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been nominated in BEST ACTOR category for Sacred Games at News18’s iReel Awards, to be held on September 6 in Mumbai.)