Bangalore Mirror | Donigered
Police, which had earlier said they had no problem with the play being staged, forced its cancellation at the last minute citing Lok Sabha polls; Bangalore’s date with the ballot is a good one month away
-By Sridhar Vivan & Ayesha Tabassum
Taking offence has got takers, especially in the election season. Close on the heels of getting American indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History pulped, a Hindu outfit has managed to tighten the screws on the political machinery to get acclaimed play Ali J banned in Bangalore.
An audience of 20 people was seated in Jagriti Theatre in Whitefield on Wednesday and the play about to begin when the plug was pulled. The last-minute cancellation not only dents Bangalore’s image of having a culturally tolerant environment, but also exposes our double-faced politicians, both the right-winged and the ‘secular’ kinds. The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government had no qualms when the play was staged — under police vigil — in January (in Ranga Shankara in JP Nagar), but seems to have developed cold feet with the elections just a month away in the state.
The note put up by Jagriti Theatre, which was hosting the play directed by Karthik Kumar, raised many eyebrows. Jagriti, on its website, claimed the play Ali J, scheduled to be staged from March 12 to 16, was cancelled as the home ministry would not stand by them.
“A senior official from the home ministry has told us that at any other time they’d stand by us, but because it’s election time, we must ?comply and not stage the show,” the message stated. Elections to the Lok Sabha in the state is slated for April 17.
Arundhati Raja, artistic director, Jagriti Theatre said on Tuesday that the local police approached them saying they had got a memorandum from a particular group objecting to the play. After being told the play had been staged at Ranga Shankara last month, the cops insisted on permission from the tahsildar and the additional commissioner. “We approached Kamal Pant, who faxed instructions to the Whitefield and Koramangala police stations saying the play could be staged.
But, on Wednesday, just when the play was to begin, the Whitefield police team again walked in saying they had instructions from the home ministry to stop the staging. We had 20 people in the audience, but had to give in to the police. We haven’t seen anything in writing so far, nor has anyone from the home ministry directly contacted us, but we have been strictly advised not to stage the play. We had to refund the ticket money for all those present that day,” she said.
An executive of the theatre said despite shows being cancelled in Mumbai and Chennai, they were keen to stage the play. “Jagriti was committed to staging the play and fought until ‘third bell’ on the opening night. However, pressure from the police resulted in cancellation of that show. Jagriti and Evam, promoters of the play, continued to work with the police, the tahsildar and even engaged the Hindu group in discussion, but finally a senior official in the Home Ministry weighed in saying he was aware of the matter, and that at any other time he would support the theatre, but given that it is election time, he feared groups would use this issue to push their own agendas, resulting in chaos.” Madan added that while Jagriti staunchly supported freedom of speech and expression and would do everything in its power to disallow hooliganism and fundamentalism to dictate its artistic offerings, “it must carefully consider legal directives, especially during election time. It deeply regrets cancellation of the show.”
Even the Bangalore East tahsildar had written to assistant commissioner of police (South East) on the issue. The letter stated there had been complaints expressing concern that the play could disrupt social harmony.
Told 4 hours before the play Karthik Kumar, director the play, who also was playing Ali J’s character, said, “We were fully assured of police protection. Four hours before the play, we were told not to stage the show. However, we went ahead but as the show was about to begin, cops entered the green room and asked us to vacate. The audience were witness to it.”
What is ‘Ali J’ all about? According to the show organisers, ‘Ali J’ is the story of a stubborn lover, a dreamer… beyond what society allows him. His Islam is fleeting. His love is Bollywood-like. Why would you care? After all, he is Muslim. ‘Ali J’ is a powerful, urgent new play about the search for identity, the need for belonging, the uneasy position at the wrong end of inclusivity and about being Muslim in today’s India. ‘Ali J’ and Evam made history when the play became the first theatre production from India to perform a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Why Hindu outfits protested Hindu Jana Jagriti Samiti co-ordinator Chandra Mogera said, “The play features two characters; Ali, a reference to Mohammed Ali Jinnah and, Mohan, a reference to Gandhi. Ali falls in love with a girl Bharati, who is symbolic of India. There is glorification and justification of the creation of Pakistan. There are some scenes that relate to Kasab and his bravery. It shows minorities are insecure in the country and this is not the case. Hence, we ran from pillar to post to express our protest and succeeded in stalling the show.”
Read as it appeared in Bangalore Mirror here.
Jagriti is a Performance Arts space dedicated to Theatre, Music, Dance and Comedy. Founded in 2011 by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, the space has hosted several productions from India and around the world. A 200-seat theatre, built around a full-thrust stage, it is fully equipped to cater to both artistes and audience. The main stage is designed for intimate performances, with adjoining spaces for informal lectures and gatherings, and an attached restaurant- 'The Fat Chef'. Jagriti is owned and operated by the not-for-profit ART Foundation, a registered charitable trust.
The Rooftop - above the main auditorium is an open-to-sky space with a staging area that can accommodate about 50 people. A raised and walled off platform can work as a perfect area for puppet theatre. The Rooftop has a restroom and a pantry.
The Terrace - alongside the auditorium, the Terrace can accommodate about 20 people as an informal gathering area.
Lumbini - extending out from the foyer, Lumbini has a stage and an open-to-sky terraced space for about 80 people.