Mr Shanbag, though, doesn’t quite pussy-foot around in his play. S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship has all the salaciousness of the original Tendulkar text, and it also seeks to illustrate how the sanitisation of entertainment has actually taken place, how the unregulated bawdiness and unbridled joy of vintage tamasha performances gave way to the more conformist (in the most cloying manner) lok natya.
It is easy to understand how Sakharam Binder raised hell and fire in the 70s, when the cultural pre-conditioning was at its peak. Context is everything and for the captive live audience at a Prithvi staging, the reality thrown to their faces by Sakharam, Champa and not least, Lakshmi, sometimes matters less than the steady stream of choice abuses, each of which has people rolling over in the aisles, as if a cue-card named ‘Applause’ has miraculously been held up.
Potentially incendiary material will continue to be made. An upcoming piece to be directed by Mr Shanbag recounts the story of a white American minstrel singer who performed blackface routines in India in the late 19th century. This is a potential minefield because minstrel performances are now considered an ignoble legacy of America’s racism so indelibly linked to its history of slavery that it’s impossible to even extricate the musical debt owed to minstrelsy by the contemporary music scene in America. Taking this man, who performed blackface with Indian characters for Indian audiences who were completely regaled by the man, always believing that the joke was only on the ‘other’, almost strips the minstrel act of its original baggage, but not quite. Blackface is always problematic, though maybe less so to an insular Indian audience.
In the opening scene of the play, when Mr Bhosle takes the stage and make some topical noises in a warm-up routine he sneaks in a mention of Mr Sibal, everyone’s pet peeve of the day, given how the power of the hashtag is now upon us. In the over-expressive world of internet media, censorship is a much more immediate concern. Even our little theatre site came under the scanner when a Typepad ban, very discretely set in motion by the powers-that-be, meant that we were greeted, one fine morning, with the very politely worded message: “This site has been blocked as per request from Department of Telecom”, another attempt to quell the blogosphere without even understanding the technology that makes the Internet the power it is.
The players during the Sakharam saga of the 70s are still around. Bal Thackarey, whose cohorts had roughed up actors then, still persists with his paternalistic doggedness to set up a culture police of sorts. The censor board for theatre languishes in the back-offices, but cinema is now easy fodder. In times when even leading production houses like Dharma Productions toe the line when it comes to keeping a Friday date at the turnstiles (as if creative integrity is not germane to standard issue romantic comedies), it is heartening that a play like S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship, which talks of the battle resolutely waged to get a provocative play performed, has now quietly completed 50 shows.
S*x, M*rality and Cens*rship completes 50 performances on 9 December at Prithvi Theatre. The next shows are scheduled for 5 and 6 January 2012.
The writer runs the theatre appreciation website Stage Impressions.
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