At the inaugural ceremony of the International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, actor Prakash Raj said that it was time artists became the voice of the voiceless in the country.

“We are going through difficult times,” he said. “There’s an agenda that is being forced on us. It’s not just creative voices, but just any form of dissent is being silenced. I talk to raise my voice, not because I belong to a political party, but as an artist, because I feel responsible to speak up. When you silence a voice, a louder voice will be born.”

The actor said he particularly feels free in Kerala. “When I come to Kerala, I don’t come with a script to talk because there is no censor here,” he said. “This is one state where I can breathe without fear.”

Addressing the film fraternity, he said that they have a responsibility towards the society. “The film fraternity or the artists of a society are not what they are because of talent but because of the love they get from society,” he said. “It is important for such artists who owe their love and comfort to society to give back. It is important to be the voice of those who cannot raise their voice.”

Raj said that attempts are being made to silence him too. “They are threatening me and I laugh at them,” he said. “They have tried to silence me but I have started singing,” he said.

Silencing voices

The actor also referred to the controversy and the subsequent omission of Sanal Sasidharan’s S Durga from the recently-concluded International Film Festival of India in Goa. The film may be screened at the festival in Kerala if the makers get permission from the court.

“They (those against the film) have a problem with S Durga but they have no problem with Durga Wine and Bar,” he said. “They have no problem if a street named Durga is dirty. We know Hindutva is a way of life. But when people say that Hindutva and nationalism is the same – are you trying to put in something else in the form of Hindutva? When we want to celebrate our own language and culture, why do you want us to learn Hindi? Is it because you want us to listen to what you say? You are trying to silence a voice and instil fear because you don’t want the next generation to think. Somebody is killed in Rajasthan, there is a price on someone’s head... what is the narrative here?”

The stifling of free expression is the most dangerous thing a society can have, he added, and said people in positions of power need to be more forthcoming. “If a chief minister says he or she is helpless, they must step down,” he said. “Think and be clear. It is dangerous to see enemy consciousness seep in slowly.”

The actor finished his speech by saying he takes full responsibility for all that he has said in his speech.

Raj and Bengali actor Madhabi Mukherjee were felicitated at the inaugural ceremony, which was deliberately reduced in scale by the State Chalachitra Academy, as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives in cyclone Ockhi. A short ceremony was organised to throw the festival open, followed by the screening of the festival’s opening film Insult, directed by Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri. One hundred ninety films from around 65 countries will be screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala this year.