Odisha’s culture minister has sought a report from the National School of Drama (NSD) after a Polish play staged in Bhubaneswar as part of the ongoing 18th Bharat Rang Mahotsav featured a few seconds of nudity.
Sonka, a 110-minute play by Poland’s Aleksander Wegierko Drama Theater, depicts the horrors inflicted upon a Polish woman by Nazi soldiers during World War II. At one point, the soldiers leave the protagonist, played by the actress Katarzyna Siergiej, without any clothes above her waist for about 10 seconds.
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The play, staged at the Rabindra Mandap on Friday evening, brought gasps from the 700-strong audience, but did not trigger any outrage initially. On Saturday morning, however, state Culture Minister Ashok Panda said: “Such plays are against our culture. Such vulgarity in plays will not be tolerated. Those who had organised such a play should have taken due care. I have called for a report from NSD regarding this.”
Suresh Bhardwaj, director of the BRM parallel festival in Bhubaneswar, described the incident as an “accident” and said the play would be held as scheduled in Delhi on Monday. The NSD holds the main BRM festival in Delhi, and smaller parallel festivals in other cities.
“I have spoken to the Polish group and it seems that there was a crowd scene in the play, and the character was wearing a loose gown which came off. This was an accident. The other actors who were a part of the crowd scene covered her,” Bhardwaj told The Sunday Express. He added, “I am receiving reports that the play was very well received by people who love theatre. It will be held as scheduled in Delhi on February 15.”
The Bhubaneswar festival ended on Friday, but activists of the Odisha Nari Sachetana Manch locked the main gate of the auditorium, and tore and burnt posters on Saturday. The activists also blocked roads for some time, seeking an apology for the “vulgar display of women’s bodies”.
Dhira Mallick, noted director and secretary of the Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi, said there was no outrage in the theatre after the scene. “I was there in the audience, and people were stunned for a few moments. The scene was not at all vulgar, rather it depicted Nazi atrocities. Had the scene been vulgar, the audience would not have clapped when we felicitated the artistes,” Mallick said.
Later, however, Mallick said the “scene was unnecessary”, and that the “next time we host such a festival, we will request NSD not to send such plays which could hurt the sensibilities of the people of Odisha”.
The story of Sonka, directed by Polish director Agnieszka Korytkowska-Mazur, takes place on the Poland-Belarus border. A chance meeting between a well-known young diretor and an old Belarussian woman on a rural road in Poland gives rise to the story. Igor, the director, transforms the old woman’s story into a play, creating his own version of events. A brochure of the play described Sonka as “based on facts, but intimate, simple, not easy calm, but scathing emotions, pacifist, yet brutal history”.