Sunil Shanbag

New Performance

Grant Period: Over three months

This IFA grant enables director Sunil Shanbag to transform the performance script, S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship, which was developed by Shanta Gokhale and Iravati Karnik with the support of an earlier grant from IFA, into a stage production. Sunil Shanbag received an IFA grant three months ago to undertake preparatory research and documentation on the history of censorship and its impact on theatre in India, primarily in Maharashtra. He worked with Iravati Karnik and Shanta Gokhale, who researched, acquired documents from different sources and created a basic draft of the performance script  for S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship in Marathi.

In this play, a young historian, is commissioned by a Delhi-based cultural tsarina to create a work on censorship, with particular emphasis on Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder and issues surrounding the censorship of the play in 1970s. The historian comes to a local tamasha dancer, Lavanya and a shahir (traditional story-teller) to pursue his studies. Lavanya provokes the shahir into debates around the censoring of Sakharam Binder and compels him reflect on the relationship between theatre, the State and public pressures.

Sunil aims to juxtapose Sakharam Binder with the theatrical form of tamasha and shahiri story-telling in order to draw attention to performance traditions in Maharashtra that have suffered because of moral censorship. The tamasha has been sanitized in response to the sensibilities of conservative urban audiences, which is the same section that supported efforts to ban the performance of Sakharam Binder. In addition, with the tamasha form, as Sunil says, “the team would get the opportunity to use music and dance and add colour, comment, and a theatricality that is so essential for a work of this kind”.

S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship, set in the tent usually set up by the tamasha troupes in villages and small towns in Maharashtra, will feature a play within the play in which a character called Kamalakar will be seen rehearsing Sakharam Binder. (Kamalakar Sarang directed the original production of Sakharam Binder in 1970s.) This game of fiction and reality, as Sunil puts it, will “lock the play firmly in its own time and space, and have the audience watch it from a distance––objectively, almost voyeuristically. Even at a physical level this action happens furthest from the audience, deep downstage.” At another level, the traditional characters of Shahir and Lavanya will recreate different elements of the shahiri form and the tamasha repertoire respectively.

Sunil will collaborate with Maya Jadhav, a well-known tamasha dancer. Maya Jadhav and her bard Shahaji Kale will help to select lavanis and choreograph dance sequences for the proposed production. Sunil has been in conversation with well-known musicians like Atul-Ajay and Anand Modak to compose music for the production. Some of the audio and video material secured during the research will be incorporated in the envisaged docu-drama to recreate the context of seventies and issues around theatre censorship. It will also include audio-visual advertisements, radio jingles, magazine covers, clips from popular Marathi and Hindi cinema, recorded videos of plays, news footage from television, interviews, and testimonies about Sakharam Binder to depict the socio-cultural context of the seventies.

While the performance will be in Hindi, a few scenes in the play (including Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder) will be translated into the ‘Nagpuri Hindi’ spoken in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. This will give a strong sense of the linguistic and socio-cultural context of the seventies and the controversies around Sakharam Binder.

S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship will have a first run of nine shows at the Prithvi Theatre starting on September 29, 2009. The plan is to stage the production again at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in November and then in different cities in India. With this performance, Sunil feels confident of engaging with the issues of censorship and freedom of expression with the performing arts communities and the wider public.