Clad in khadi kurta and pants, it’s easy to spot Kiran Nagarkar and when cornered, he is quite gracious with selfies as well. At the inauguration of the Kriti International Book Fair in Kochi, the acclaimed novelist, screenwriter and playwright sits down to have a chat with Silverscreen on art, language and freedom of expression.
“I remember when my wife and I were apartment hunting in Mumbai, we visited almost 30 houses and liked only two of them. The other 28 didn’t have a single drawer to keep all our books. We were quite disappointed with the way people in Mumbai have changed over the years. Later when I visited Kerala and met people from all streams of life, I was happy to see that people in this state still liked reading and listening.
Nagarkar, who was given the Sahitya Akademi Award, explained that though he wrote many novels in English, it was his mother tongue Marathi that helped him rediscover himself. “Up until my fourth standard, I used to read and write in Marathi. Later when I shifted to Pune, I witnessed a whole new culture of English, and back then, believe it or not, talking in English was considered something classy and people would be in awe of you. I had a hard time finding my base in Marathi through which I rediscovered a whole new side to myself,” he says.
Raised in a traditional Hindu family, Nagarkar said he was fascinated with the changes that were happening in the country from the age of six. “If you have read my book, it’s never been an anthology of what I saw or what I say, even for the films and plays that I’ve worked on, it’s all about human behaviour that makes us question our motives, doubts and leads us to introspection,” he says.
But the author remains unconcerned about the censorship issues that the country witnessed recently. He remembered the time when a radical group in Mumbai threatened to stop the staging of his play. However, he is confident that “these things happen from time to time, and then only we can assure that art is still living.”
Nagarkar who has written screenplays like The Broken Circle, The Widow and Her Friends, The Elephant on the Mouse, a children’s film, says, “Many may not know me as a screenwriter because all the movies that I’ve done are off-stream or off-beat.”
When asked that some people label him as a pseudo-intellectual, he jokes, “This is the way I want to see myself.”
As we wind up our conversation, Nagarkar looks around with an expression of wonderment as if he is absorbing everything that is happening around.