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Nawazuddin Siddiqui bares his soul on India’s religious divide in video. Will this year’s Ram Leela in Budhana be different?

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui has shared a hard-hitting video urging people not to discriminate artistes on the lines of religion. Is it a reply to the recent attacks on the artistic freedom on our Indian film industry?

Written by Mimansa Shekhar | New Delhi |
Updated: April 24, 2017 8:28:10 pm
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Nawazuddin Siddiqui might have become one of the most bankable actors in Bollywood, but the man who still prefers to stay grounded and often visits his family in UP’s Muzaffarnagar, does not want any film awards. His desire is to participate in the annual Ram Leela in his hometown Budhana. And just when he thought his childhood dream was about to get fulfilled last year, a certain group ensured it did not happen. “A few members of the Shiv Sena didn’t want a Muslim man to play a character in Ram Leela,” Damodar Prasad Sharma, president of the Ram Leela Committee of Budhana had said. Nawaz pulled out of the Ram Leela and a few rants later, the matter was forgotten.

Or was it? It seems it stayed with the man who used to farm on his lands once, who has stayed one of the most rooted stars of Bollywood and who doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. And now, he has done exactly this in his latest video where he is talking about the most sensitive topic in the country — religion — but without even uttering a single word! What makes the video more topical is the fact that situations like the one Nawaz faced are happening with a disconcerting regularity — Padmavati row, Sonu Nigam azaan row and filmmakers made to apologise for their decisions.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui might be shy in accepting praises and talking about his power-packed onscreen performances, but this man has a way of getting his thoughts across. Even in the new video, he begins by stating that he got his DNA tested, to know his true religion. He keeps changing placards revealing that he is made up of 16.66 percent of each religion – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist, but at the end of the day, everything combined makes him a 100 percent artist. Is it a reply to all those who’ve ever questioned his belief? Maybe. But, the way he’s done it like a boss, truly deserves applause.

Also watch | Nawazuddin Siddiqui gets his DNA tested, bares his religion and his soul in this hard-hitting video

What makes Nawazuddin stand out is not just his selection of films, but even his guts and the way he doesn’t mince his words. During an interview with Anupama Chopra, Nawaz had said that he isn’t affected by box office numbers. “Bahut hi pathetic hota hai jab actor collections ki baatein karta hai (It is pathetic when you see an actor talking about box office numbers),” he had said. This came from the same actor who has been part of several Rs 100-crore films and has practically worked with every Khan of Bollywood. In 2015, he pledged support to an initiative by Mahindra highlighting the issue of farmer suicides. Let’s ask the same groups who’ve ever questioned Nawaz’s religion, what side you need to belong to while endorsing such national causes? They won’t have an answer. Nobody will have an answer.

So why did Nawazuddin chose this time to post a video that challenges all those who put religion before anything else? Maybe because it is a sensitive time when the tolerance of the nation is tested on a daily basis. Just days back, singer Sonu Nigam found himself in the middle of a controversy after his series of tweets on azaan. Many thought he raised a valid point, but the manner in which he did that landed him in trouble. While a lot of people came out and supported Sonu, a Muslim cleric announced a Rs 10 lakh award for anyone who would shave off the singer’s head.

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When Nawaz makes a point about religion and politics in a thought provoking video, it means we need to stand up and take note. Nawazuddin is not a man who’ll do things for publicity. He has struggled his way to stardom. He is the real rags-to-riches story. Hence, he knows how sentiments are hurt when you are targeted for belonging to a particular religion or following a belief.

Nawaz’s words can easily resonate with a lot of things. This time, all he has done is urged the nation to keep art and religion separate. As they say, an artist has no language, no religion. So when an actor from the neighbouring country appears in our Hindi films, it is because art transcends boundaries. So, let’s not curb the artistic freedom and fall prey to the selfish motives of groups like MNS, by giving in to their demands. This is what Nawaz wants his country to realise. And may be, this year’s Ram Leela in Budhana will have a Muslim actor in it.

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