Under pressure from Hindu right wing groups and with tacit support from Christian MLAs who were censured during live onstage performances in the past, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Goa is contemplating setting up a censor board for a popular more-than-a-century old theatre form called tiatr.
Over tiatr 400 personalities and the Opposition, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have slammed the government's veiled attempts earlier this week, calling it "high-handed" and "dictatorial", even as outraged editorials in local newspapers have demanded that the Goa government apologise for the purported censorship move.
"Tiatr is a time-tested, popular form of Goan art that has survived decades without such political or governmental. There is no doubt that this is an attempt to muzzle the right to free expression, especially when exposing the misdeeds and scandals of politicians and governments," said Oscar Rebello, a spokesperson for the AAP told Firstpost.
For hundreds of thousands of Goans, especially the sizeable Christian community living here, going for a tiatr is more than just watching a play or a theatre outing. The tiatr as an art form is far more popular than the natak, which Marathi theatre performances are referred to as. With its socio-political, relevant and organic themes, watching a tiatr show on weekends, religious feast days and holidays is like watching their own lives play out under bright lights, mixed with a bit of banter and slapstick fun and a touch of tragedy.
Which is why the government’s move to put in place the “Goa Licensing and Controlling Places Of Public Amusement (Other Than Cinema) and Performances for Public Amusement, Rules 2015” has set alarm bells ringing.
"The government has begun a process to analyse whether there is a need to have a censor board or not, to monitor tiatr and Marathi drama in the state," Arvind Bugde director of the state government’s Information and Publicity department told reporters earlier this week.
The censorship move has resulted in a virtual avalanche of resentment in the tiatrist community. "People in Goa look up to the tiatr as a vehicle of honest expression of public discontent with the powers that be, for this reason no government or agency has in the past dared to introduce pre-censorship and the tiatrists themselves have reciprocated by exercising self-restraint," says a memorandum signed by over 400 tiatr artiste which includes some of the top names like Prince Jacob, Roseferns, etc.
Interestingly, the roots of the tiatr are embedded not in an Indian art form, but it owes inspiration to Italian operettas which were a rage in colonial India, especially Bombay, in the pre-independence era. The first Konkani adaptation of the Operetta was performed in Mumbai in 1892, which officially makes the tiatr legacy 123 years old. The art form has followed the expat Goan community, with tiatr performances popular in the countries like United Arab Emirates, UK, France, Portugal, North America, which have sizeable pockets of Goan immigrants. In Goa, the art form has survived the test of time, popularity as well as censorship under the four century old Portuguese colonial regime.
The idea of a censor board for community plays came to the fore when last year the right wing Hindu outfit Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) submitted a memorandum to the government seeking that a censor board be set up to keep a check on tiatrs and ‘nataks’.
The demand was made in the wake of a tiatr titled ‘Atakvadi Goeant Naka’ (Say no to terrorists in Goa) which purportedly was about Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik notorious for attacks on pub goers in Mangalore. The tiatr was enacted at a time when Muthalik announced that he was planning to open a branch of his notorious outfit in Goa.
Around the same time, Ravindra Bhavan, a government promoted art centre and popular venue for tiatr performances issued a draft circular which required tiatrists to submit their script prior to the performance for vetting and an official clearance. The move was hastily withdrawn, again under public pressure.
This time round the Congress party has threatened to come out on the streets arm-in-arm with the influential tiatr artistes and fans to block the censorship move. "We will ensure that such dictatorial tendencies do not creep in. We are vigilant. We want the people to be vigilant and put an end to this bizarre proposition," Congress spokesperson Agnelo Fernandes said Tuesday.
The move, however, has the backing of a section of the Christian lawmakers, including Archives and Archaelogy minister Francisco Pacheco who have in the past been publicly heckled during tiatr performances. "There is one section amongs tiatrists who are unfair in their criticism, who target politicians’ families and get personal. This has to be checked," Pacheco said.
Under fire the BJP, however, "denied" reports that government has a mind to censor tiatrs. “There is no move to have a censor board to tiatrs. Neither the Goa government nor the BJP has any such intention,” BJP state vice president Dr. Wilfred Mesquita said.
Updated Date: Feb 18, 2015 18:48 PM