|Publication: The Times Of India Mumbai;||Date: Oct 21, 2010;||Section: Times City;||Page: 4|
Hindutva group upstages ‘humorous play’
Suprateek Chatterjee TNN
Mumbai: The self-proclaimed sentinels of Hindu pride are at it again. A comic play centred on a village Ramlila was recently taken off stage after a protest by a Hindutva group for ostensibly showing Ram and Sita in poor light.
‘Raavan Leela’, which debuted in Mumbai in August, is a lighthearted play about a traditional village Ramlila gone wrong. It depicts a situation wherein the actor playing Raavan refuses to die in the end over financial disagreements with the organizer. “It is a slightly exaggerated version of the Ramlila that happens in small towns and villages. Actors are often untrained, female roles are sometimes played by men and things go wrong on stage. That is all we have tried to portray in a humorous manner,” says Om Katare, director of the play and founder of theatre group Yatri.
Though critically praised, the play did not find admirers in the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, which claimed that it offends Hindu sentiments. On September 5, around 15 members of the group protested against the staging of ‘Raavan Leela’ at the Mysore Association Auditorium in Matunga (E). “They demanded that we cancel the show,” said Madhu Sudan, manager of the auditorium.
Narendra Surve, chief karyakarta of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, said, “This play shows our great epic Ramayana in poor light. It has distorted portrayals of our deities which will mislead young people who come to watch this play. Also, the characters use bad language against each other; Raavan’s character calls Ram ‘kambakht’, for example.”
Following the protest, Katare and Sudan say, the group led by Surve threatened to damage auditorium property should there be another show of the play. The members of the Hindutva group also tried to lodge a police complaint at Matunga police station, which was dismissed. “As the play was cleared by the censors, the police did not need to take any action,” said Sunil Deshmukh, senior inspector, Matunga police station.
Rattled by the dustup, the auditorium has cancelled future shows of the play. “We have no objections against anything in the play, but we would rather not invite trouble,” said Sudan.
Katare said, “I’ve tried initiating a dialogue about what exactly they find objectionable so that we can edit it out. But they’ve refused, calling our entire play obscene.”
Well-known theatre personality Mahesh Dattani, whose play ‘Sara’ was targeted by Hindu right-wingers for being based on the life of Pakistani poet Sara Shagufta a few months ago, said: “This is a very dangerous trend because plays are softer targets than, say, films. Even if we use legal recourse, the problem is that these guys work on muscle power and police protection isn’t always possible. Theatre groups and artistes need to join hands against such extra-constitutional censorship.”
FINAL ACT: ’Raavan Leela’, a light-hearted play, was taken off stage by an auditorium after receiving threats from a Hindutva group