Monday, Aug 19, 2019 | Last Update : 12:20 PM IST

Art at risk?

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : May 17, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated : May 17, 2019, 12:32 am IST

However, it’s also true that whenever any form of art has breached the so-called ideologies of the governance, it has faced the axe of censorship.

Several playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians complain their work has been censored or cancelled following pressure, sometimes backed up by physical threats, from the right wing.
 Several playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians complain their work has been censored or cancelled following pressure, sometimes backed up by physical threats, from the right wing.

Playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians complain their work has been censored or cancelled following pressure, sometimes backed up by physical threats.

Literature, art, music and theatre have always portrayed the social economic and political framework of the era. It’s nothing new if it continues to do the same.

However, it’s also true that whenever any form of art has breached the so-called ideologies of the governance, it has faced the axe of censorship.

Five days after a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel in February in Kashmir, playwright and director Abhishek Majumdar was forced to cancel a play criticising the behaviour of security forces in region.

The play, which was scheduled to be staged at Jaipur fest, was stopped by police. If they hadn’t stepped in, activists had made it clear they would have physically forced the play off the stage. The activists alleged Majumdar was “anti-national” or unpatriotic.

Hours before the show was due to start, the crew alleged they were forced to escape the venue as a mob had gathered.

“It wasn’t that people didn’t like our play or expressed their dismay and left. No. We were being hunted across the city,” said Ashwath Bhatt, an actor.

Several playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians complain their work has been censored or cancelled following pressure, sometimes backed up by physical threats, from the right wing.

Many who have interviewed have been subjected to questioning by event organisers or the authorities if their works explored contentious issues, such as secularism and religious intolerance. However, BJP has dismissed all allegations.

Police officials in Jaipur who went to the venue said they just didn’t feel the timing was right to show Majumdar’s play, which dealt with the mental state of civilians and security forces after years of unrest in Kashmir.

“We were informed of possible violence. So to avoid any violence and any harm from happening, we took action,” sub-inspector Mukesh Kumar said.

Activist Suraj Soni on his part said he filed a police complaint against the play and joined the protests because it was “mocking” and “insulting” the nation’s armed forces at a time when India was mourning those killed in the suicide attack.

“We told them the evening before not go ahead with it since the country’s sentiments were on a boil. Majumdarji didn’t want to listen to us,” Soni said.

Majumdar, however, maintained he had never met Soni.

“There is a kind of legitimacy this government has provided to violence. It is okay to attack artists these days, only because their work does not suit the narrative being peddled for electoral gains,” said Majumdar.

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, a BJP leader, said allegations by artists that the government and the ruling party were clamping down on free speech were “all in their mind”.

The number of verbal attacks on the BJP and its allies was illustrative of how much freedom the critics had, she said. Kumaramangalam compared it with India’s 21-month state of emergency in 1975-77 when then prime minister Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties. Hundreds of journalists, artists and intellectuals were among those arrested at the time.

“That was real censorship. I don’t think anyone has come anywhere near that. You wouldn’t even be talking to me about it if there was real curtailment right now,” Kumaramangalam said

Clearly Hindu groups aren’t the only restraint on freedom of expression in often ultra-conservative India. Hardly a month goes by without a movie being challenged because a plotline offends one religion, ethnic group, caste, or another.

A similar incident took place in January when a Tamil band ‘The Casteless Collective’ was stopped from performing in Chennai.

Actor-director Amol Palekar was also interrupted during a speech at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai in February. He was speaking on government interference in art and attacks on freedom of expression.

“The NGMA episode was despicable and was representative of the gagging that has spread over all fields of expression,” Palekar said in an e-mail response.

More than 800 writers and artists protested and signed the ‘Artists Unite’ declaration to register concern against hate and intolerance.

Actor Moloyashree Hashmi says while groups have been physically attacked, there was also a hidden clampdown on dissent.

“It is the unstated, not being able to perform ... that is far more insidious and all pervasive,” she said.

Her husband Safdar Hashmi, a playwright and a member of the Communist Party (Marxist), was killed while performing a street play in 1989. Ten people, including a member of the then ruling Congress party, were convicted.

“It has increased over the years,” Moloyashree Hashmi said.

Tags: security forces, filmmakers