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State Surveillance In Theatre...Could It Be Your Play Next?

September 6, 2019 4:13:32 PM IST
MTG editorial

A still from TATHAGAT

Surveillance in theatre by the State is not a new thing. It existed even before India was a nation state when the British ruled. Surveillance and censorship have also gone hand in hand in our theatre.

So what is different now?

As some recent events suggest, there is an unprecedented level of surveillance and clampdown on voices that do not fit the dominant narratives today. Both dialogue and dissent on stage and off stage are being threatened. There is also palpable fear as non-state actors who take the form of mobs are able to get away with impunity for their destructive actions.

There are a number of plays in our history that have experienced the ire of the mob and mobs have killed too. Perhaps no other group in our theatre history knows this better than the famous Delhi-based street theatre group Jana Natya Manch (JANAM).

The group was in Mumbai recently for shows of their play TATHAGAT, written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar. At their last show at Harkat Studios in Versova, policemen in plain clothes were present and they made their presence very, very obvious. According to Subodh More, the facilitator for the Mumbai shows, their presence was definitely awkward as two of these men stood like sentinels near the door, looming over the small set-up. Earlier before the show, Sudhanva Deshpande, one of the core members of JANAM, was questioned as well.

Questions posed by us to Karan Talwar of Harkat Studios concerning this incident remain unanswered, but Sudhanva Deshpande of JANAM, no stranger to such tactics, was forthcoming in his response.

Earlier in February this year, writer-director Abhishek Majumdar and his team were targeted at the Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur for their play EIDGAAH KE JINNAT, which is based on the crisis in Kashmir. Was TATHAGAT surveilled because of Abhishek Majumdar who was also present at the show at Harkat Studios? Was it because it was JANAM staging the show? Was it because of the play's content? Or was it a combination of all three? This could be anybody's guess; the bottomline being that increasingly you will be watched for the stands you take and the art you make.

Noted critic and writer Jayant Pawar, aggrieved by this event, and by another equally disturbing one concerning theatre artiste Yash Khan has written an open letter to well-known thespians and the literati seeking their response to both these incidents. He has received responses mainly from Marathi theatre veterans Premanand Gajvi, Rajeev Naik, Shafaat Khan, and from academics like Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, among others, as well as from places like Satara, Jalna and Nashik in Maharashtra.

*Mumbai Theatre Guide takes no responsibility for change in schedule.


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