Protests against play Agnes of God in Mumbai: what else is new?

While the show will take place, the minister has promised Dias and the Catholic community that its content will be looked into. As of now, whether or not Agnes of God will be staged again, is uncertain.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul | Updated: October 5, 2015 5:04 pm
Agnes of God, play Agnes of God, play ban, theatre ban, mumbai play ban, christian play ban, ban Agnes of God, Agnes of God ban, CSF, mumbai news, indian express Anahita Uberoi and Avanti Nagral rehearse for the play.

In the 1970s, when Vijay Tendulkar wanted to stage his play Sakharam Binder, a critique on caste and marriage, the censor board demanded 35 cuts. The celebrated Marathi playwright refused. If he’d made the suggested changes, Sakharam would not be himself anymore. ‘I carry two things in my pocket, a beedi and an expletive’, Sakharam says in the play. This dialogue explains the character in a nutshell.

The opposition to the play came from two quarters: the first was predictably the Shiv Sena, the other, surprisingly, was the mainstream Marathi theatre folk. The play was banned.

More than 40 years have since passed but little seems to have changed in Mumbai. Maharashtra remains the only state in the country with a censor board for stage performances. Here, the battle for freedom of expression is always being waged.

Currently, making headlines is Poor-Box Productions’s Agnes of God, an adaptation of playwright John Peilmeier’s original by the same name. A nun gives birth to a child but claims to be a virgin. On the stage, this sets off a series of investigations. Off it, the play has triggered a protest by the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) run by Joseph Dias, “a concerned Catholic who wants the voice of his minority community heard”.

Ticketed shows of the play, earlier scheduled to take place at Sophia Bhabha hall, have been cancelled. The premiere was rescheduled from October 4 at the same venue to October 5 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). And last week, CSF managed to get Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) on board to have the play banned on the grounds of misrepresentation of the religious belief of the Christian community.

On Monday morning, Dias met Minister of Minority Affairs, Eknath Khadse to ensure it is called off. Director Kaizaad Kotwal was present at the meeting. While the show will take place, the minister has promised Dias and the Catholic community that its content will be looked into. As of now, whether or not Agnes of God will be staged again, is uncertain.

Theatre in Maharashtra has a long and turbulent history of censorship. Agnes of God is merely the latest to fall prey. Others are K P Khadilkar’s Keechak Vadh, Tendulkar’s Gidhade, Pradeep Dalvi’s Mee Nathuram Boltoy and Kiran Nagarkar’s Bedtime Story, recently released as a book after many years.

This propensity for censorship isn’t limited to plays alone. While it may no more be in news, the legal battle over All India Bakchod’s controversial Roast is still on. A bunch of comedians, set out to offend its participants, actors Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor in the insult comedy piece. Ironically, the list of the real “offended” comprises those who weren’t even present at the show.

In the past, this clampdown has forced artistes to reinvent. Take for instance Chaitanya Tamhane’s film Court, which subtly critiques the state and its habit of censorship. Whether or not the state likes it, the film is this year’s selection for the Academy Awards.

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  1. B
    Oct 6, 2015 at 9:08 am
    The story of Agnes of God is inspired by the real incident of Sister Maureen Murphy, who killed her baby while living in a convent. However, the novel is intent to show the conflict in human mind between believing in miracle and reality. For example, we tend to visualize a good Samaritan as an angel, because our mind wants to draw comfort from the harsh reality of the world. I have watched the 1985 movie. While the movie shows a doctors investigation into the incident, it leaves enough room for both possibilities. It is left for the viewer to make up their mind. If it was not banned in Western countries, why ban it in India?
    1. R
      Oct 5, 2015 at 8:29 pm
      Stop calling yourselves Christians you Hippocrates
      1. H
        Oct 5, 2015 at 8:21 pm
        Dias's organization calls itself secular. Many questions automatically come up but are left unanswered in this report. Exactly why does he or his organization think that their "minority community's voice" must be specially treated in the case of a play that is published and printed and read and enacted and even made into a film for decades all over the world? Where the play was written and pla and the film on it made, was Dias's community (if he prefers to be just a catholic and not an Indian catholic -- because in the latter case, the community of all the people outside India is different from his anyway) a majority or a minority? The film was shown decades back in many countries, there too, who are in majority? Why this extra sensitivity now?
        1. T
          Oct 5, 2015 at 8:47 pm
          Now it is time for the christian extremists. These people cannot be allowed to impose their religious "sentiments" on freedom of speech. Of course, it is good that at least they are not becoming violent like the shiv sena, but the law and govt. should support freedom of speech in this case.
          1. Mahender Goriganti
            Oct 6, 2015 at 4:29 am
            Moronic beliefs take all sorts of form in Abraham religions (Jews, Christian, Muslims). The fundamental difference between Eastern regions (Hindu related) and Abraham (z ionic) west is We believe there no beginning or end to this universe and life(self) contrary to all of west beliefs of a day of birth of this planet, flooding/destruction/end. By birth every body is a God (Atman = Brahman), as against the belief of everybody is sinner by birth.
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