It is strange how I never thought of Naseeruddin Shah as a Muslim until now when his religious identity is being used against him to prove he is anti-national.
But hang on. Why is Naseer anti-national? Because he expressed trepidation about the future of this country and, more specifically, his children.
Here is what Naseer said: "The poison has already spread. It will be very difficult to capture this djinn back in the bottle. There is complete impunity for those who take law into their own hands. In many areas we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer. I feel anxious thinking about my children. Because they don't have a religion. Tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks 'Are you a Hindu or a Muslim', they will have no answer. It worries me because I don't see the situation improving anytime soon."
I am a little lost after repeatedly reading this. Which part of the observation is anti-national? Have we all not felt the same terror grip our hearts in recent times as mobs decided to lynch alleged cattle-offenders? Or set on fire a rape victim who doesn't withdraw her case against her offenders? Don't we all worry about our children? Except maybe Anupam Kher, who thinks everything is hunky-dory in India today.
But you never know what will be deemed "anti-national" in today's super-charged atmosphere of pseudo-patriotism, will you? Is it anti-national to say Vivek Oberoi playing the Prime Minister is a bit of a joke? Or is it seditious to suggest that demonetisation was a demoniacal disaster? Am I going to be branded anti-national for defending Naseer's right to defend his family? Is it right to book him a ticket to Karachi because he spoke about his insecurities?
But I am happy to inform you that Naseer is not going anywhere. He is not wrong in feeling anxious about the future. And if he speaks up about his insecurities and is slammed for it, then isn't it proof that he's right in feeling insecure?
As the outspoken Swara Bhaskar said to me: "Quite simply, the attack on Naseeruddin Shah proves his point more than anything else. Intolerance is a government-approved malaise in this new Hindustan of ours."
My dear Shabana Azmi is right in saying there should be some amount of distinction between the government and the national identity. If one criticises the government, one is not being anti-national. If one doesn't watch Anupam Kher play Manmohan Singh, one is not pro-Congress. And if one disagrees with Mrs Kirron Kher that "The Accidental Prime Minister" (which coincidentally stars her husband) should be sent to the Oscars, one is not anti-national either.
The country is in the grip of an unprecedented culture of conformity. Everybody must love certain politicians to qualify as a true Indian. And if you have any reservations about any of the government's policies (including reservations) you will be booked an air ticket to Pakistan. Or worse, forced to watch Vivek Oberoi play our Prime Minister on the day the film releases.
I threw away my Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mehndi Hassan CDs the day Mrs Kher declared her husband's film Oscar-worthy without seeing it. Am I a good Indian?
(Subhash K. Jha writes on cinema. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)