Fresh off the many controversies surrounding his political and personal opinions, when actor-BJP MP Paresh Rawal sat down this evening for a group interaction for his upcoming film, Guest Iin London, he was aware that journalists would be more interested in knowing about the latest developments in his real life than the character he is playing next on screen. “It’s a request, let’s restrict the questions to the film,” he told the media persons in the room before the interview began.
But 10 minutes into the interaction, came first question about the biopic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the actor has signed. As it moved towards the Arundhati Roy controversy and his take on increasing incidents of mob lynching in the name of religion, the 50-minute long session turned into more political than anyone expected it to be.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. How challenging is it going to be to play Narendra Modi in the biopic? How are you going to prepare for it, or have you already begun the preparation?
Rawal: It will be very challenging. You have to go beyond that (mimicry). If I have to mimic Modi ji, then there are many people (who can do that). There’s no mimicry here that’s why it is difficult. Right now, I am meeting him, seeing him but then there is a preparation which happens when you detach yourself. You can’t prepare by just seeing.
Q. Given the volatile political climate right now, do you think it’s a challenge to attempt his biopic?
Rawal: Political climate around him was volatile, since he came into politics. This is made up. There are a few people who have made this up, this is not a political climate. Like it happened during demonetisation. People were standing on the road and there were no riots or fights. There are times when people are scared and flustered and political parties make an issue out of it. But here people were quietly standing on the road and in fact, political parties were restless because they had water under their feet, their money turned into mere paper. That’s why they wanted something to happen. People understood this and no one supported them. So, let’s not even talk about this political climate.
Q. Who do you think is suitable to play Amit Shah, considered quite close to Modi, from Bollywood?
Rawal: There are many other characters… It’s not as much as you think it is between Amit bhai and Modi ji. There has been his guru, during his formative years… (Also) Modi saab has been always been alone. He never sits with sidekicks, he never believes in loose talks. If he doesn’t have business with you, you can leave and he will mind his business. He has always been a loner.
Q. The response towards the Prime Minister is polarising, either people are his fans or against him. In that sense, do you fear any scepticism now that you are going to play him?
Rawal: Why should I care about that? I need to see how a given situation was handled, what were the reasons behind them and how he (Modi) interpreted them… I will try to present that.”
Q: Will the 2002 Gujarat riots be shown in the biopic?
Rawal: Everything will be there. The notion that people have… The people, who are roaming around acting as judiciary, their notion will also be tackled.
Q: Can we expect that there would be no attempt to glorify him?
Rawal: Don’t worry, everything will be there.
Q. You played a rationalist, a logical man in the film OMG! Oh My God. How much of that are you in the real life?
Rawal: 100 per cent. I am 100 per cent like that.
Q. Today, when you see the hate crime in the name of religion. How sad do you feel?
Rawal: It’s sad, it’s pathetic. This happens when you don’t consider the society as a temple and people as God. If it happens otherwise, there will be no problem.
Q. Do you think such people, who thrive on hate, can be stopped by invoking Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings? Or is there something else we need?
Rawal: Nothing stops. What will you do? What can you do about this hate? We have been told stories of Mahabharta, Gita, Quran, Bible… Every holy book has good things, still why do we do this? (hate crime). We haven’t improved. We are getting worse with each passing day. There has been no effect of those teachings. Be it a Hindu or a Muslim, it’s a human who dies in the end. Severe law should be brought for this. Judiciary should be fast in implementing the order.
Q. How do you deal with the different political opinions of your colleagues from the film industry, for example, Naseeruddin Shah, whom you have called as one of your idols, or Aamir Khan, with whom you have worked in the past?
Rawal: You respect that. If Aamir says something or Shah Rukh says something, I respect that. I may disagree. But you can’t stretch it beyond that because they also mean well, they are also talking about country’s wellness. Their way is different according to me and mine is different for them. But both the sides are talking about the country’s good.”
Q. You said that Pakistani shows are better than Indian TV shows, but when Aamir or Shah Rukh praise them (Pakistani talent) then they are called anti-nationals.
Rawal: This is there… They jumped at me as well. I was slammed as well. Anyway, this is something I said in 2014 as well that I like their shows. If I call Imran Khan a good cricketer, does that make Sunil Gavaskar bad? But I will not stop from praising them (Pakistani talent).”
Q. How do you tackle Twitter trolls?
Q. Do you feel any pressure?
Rawal: Pressure? Of Twitter? Never. Where will you go with such a pressure? This is not any pressure.”
Q. When there is an increased aggression and volatility among people today in the country, especially regarding religion, and at that time a celebrity like you go on Twitter and speak about Kashmir, the comment you made about Arundhati Roy, in hindsight do you think you shouldn’t have made that?
Rawal: I firmly believe that whatever I said about Arundhati Roy, I will repeat it also. I firmly believe in that. You cannot run down my country or my army ever. As simple as that.
Q. Don’t you think it came across as a part of hate speech or extremely aggressive?
Rawal: No. If her’s is a freedom of expression then I also have mine.
Q. That was a fake news (a media report claimed Arundhati Roy said Indian army cannot defeat azadi gang in Kashmir. It turned out to be a false piece of news).
Rawal: She did say. There are so many videos running around. You don’t know that? Let’s agree that one was fake news but when my Twitter account re-opened, I put a proof of how she fabricated news regarding the 2002 riots. I put it. I won’t back off just because my Twitter account was suspended. No way. There are many other things that she has spoken, which are like poison.
Q. But do you think it’s right to take it (what she said) forward and polarising people?
Rawal: So, if we do it’s polarisation and what will you say about what they do? You tell me first. Don’t try to justify her.
Q. I am not trying to justify her. Here, it’s not about her, it’s about you and your opinion.
Rawal: But I spoke regarding what she said. Had she not made any comment, I wouldn’t have reacted.
Q: But you think that the idea of trying a person in front of a car is right? You think what you said was right?
Rawal: From which angle do you think this is provoking violence? Please explain. If you tie Arundhati Roy around a car, from which angle can it be called violent? If you are their goodwill ambassador, if you sympathise with the stone pelters, you hoist their flag in the society so, if I tie you and I keep you in the front, no one will throw a stone. There will be no violence. People will stop. they will be like, ‘She is our Arundhati, she is our goodwill ambassador. She talks about us in the world.’ So, how is this provocative?
Number two, the army will get to know that Arundhati ji can be useful to them and she will also realise about the kind of conditions that the army is working in, I think it’s a win-win situation. Also, when your Shehla Rashid makes such comments (in an apparent reference to her comment about tying cricketer Gautam Gambhir in front of the army jeep) no one says anything. When Digvijay Singh makes such comments, no one says a word.
Q. They were criticised as well.
Rawal: But why selective?
Q. Now Congress has become irrelevant, so no one follows them but people follow Paresh Rawal. “
Rawal: I believe these are frustrated people. There is an agenda, which these people have. Nothing worked for them till today. They wanted to defeat Modi ji but he is winning so, they are frustrated. This is what I think. It’s okay, they can say whatever they want to say. But I am not one of those people who would say, ‘tie him or her’ but when you speak like this that India has occupied Mizoram. Nagaland… There is one video of Arundhati about this. When my friend’s son calls me up from America asking if this is true, I ask him, ‘Who said that?’ He says, ‘There is a video.’ You should watch that video of hers. She has spoken a lot of rubbish in London also.
Q. If it’s unconstitutional, then why doesn’t the Indian government take an action?
Rawwal: That’s a separate thing. If the government takes action, then you people say it’s vendetta, it’s a selective attack.”
Q. Do you see yourself as Chief Minister of Gujarat in the future?
Rawal: (Laughs). No! I will campaign for the party in the state but I don’t see myself as the CM. I have entered politics for a limited innings. This is not my career. I believe every person is political. Everyone has his or her view. The only difference is that in active politics, you can speak more aggressively. So, it’s restricted to that.