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Theatre censorship is unkindest cut, say miffed artists

The Censor Board for Theatre works out of this dilapidated building at Nariman Point.—Photo: Vivek Bendre  

day after controversy broke out over the state Censor Board for Theatre suggesting 19 cuts in a Marathi play, playwrights and performers are asking if a body to scrutinise scripts of live performances is really required.

Several stand-up comedians and theatre artists advocated the need to scrap the Censor Board for Theatre, which exists only in Gujarat and Maharashtra, the erstwhile Bombay province in pre-Independence India.

Varun Grover, a stand-up comedian, said, “It is interesting to note that three people in the censor board read your script and decide whether it will hurt sentiments of thousands of people who are going to watch the performance.” Recounting his brush with the censor board, Mr Grover said it had recommended dropping the word ‘beef’ from his script. “How can I comment on the controversy if I drop the word?” he asked.

Mr Grover said he is against the idea of censorship of any kind. “Let the people who are listening to them decide whether to follow them or not,” he said.

In case of the recent controversy of Marathi play Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat , the board has asked playwright Jandardan Jadhav to change Khairlanji to Vairanjli, Kutra (dog) to shwan, Mahar (a caste) to Dalit, Ramabai Nagar to Mirabai Nagar, Hindutva vadi to those with power among other changes. Taking objection to the reference to Dalit Panther poet Namdeo Dhasal’s poem ‘Gandu Bagicha’ in the play, the censor board asked Jadhav to remove it altogether.

Sunil Shanbag, a prominent theatre artist, said, “It mostly happens with plays dealing with sexuality, political and social issues. Often, the board clears the English script but opposes its Hindi version or any other Indian language translation, fearing the audience of the translated script may get offended.”

Mr Shanbag said on one occasion, he was asked to remove references to Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena from his play. “He was a political figure whom everyone mentioned in conversations, news reports and on television. Why shouldn’t he be mentioned in a play?” he asked.

The Maharashtra Rangbhoomi Parinirikshan Mandal, as the board is officially known, works out of a small government barrack near Nariman Point. As per its rules and regulations, any performance to be held on stage has to be certified by it. “Whether it is a play, stand-up performance or even a performance to be staged in a ceremony, it has to be certified by the board,” said Chandrakant Shinde, a board member. On an average, a board member has to read 20 different scripts that come for approval every month.

Mr Shanbag said it is almost next to impossible to censor live performances. “Often, the actor may say something which is not part of the approved script,” he added.

Makers of Marathi play Ek Chavat Sandhyakal (One Naughty Evening), which was given an ‘A’ certificate by the board, had to resubmit the script after some protests which claimed the jokes in the actual play were not part of the sanctioned script. “We had absolutely no problem from the board. Since a few raised objections, we resubmitted it,” said Ajit Kelkar, who acted in the play.

The Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), founded by the late Dr Narendra Dabholkar, too has resubmitted the script of its ‘ringan natya’ — a play titled Socrates to Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi via Tukaram ’ —following similar objections by right-wing Hindu organisations.

Meanwhile, board chairman Arun Nalawade told The Hindu that the committee set up to scrutinise Jai Bhim Jai Bharat will submit its report on Friday. “We are hopeful of an amicable solution,” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 8:21:03 PM |

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