Saturday, July 16, 2005

theatre Dissent Barred - Deepti Priya Mehrotra / SOCIETY

Deepti Priya Mehrotra /SOCIETY

'Mr Jinnah', a play directed by Arvind Gaur of the Asmita theatre group and written by Narendra Mohan, was recently "deferred" due to "technical problems" amid much controversy. The play portrays Jinnah as a tortured person who turned away from Congress politics due to differences regarding representation of Muslims, and charted a separate course for himself. The play's focus was on Mohammad Ali Jinnah the person, his love for and then rage against his young Parsi wife, anguish at her early death, and intolerance when his daughter wanted to marry a Parsi. Why, one wonders, does the police object to a historical figure being shown as a man with human strengths and human failings?

In fact, after the stage show was banned (or, in police doublespeak, "deferred"), Delhi's theatre-lovers gathered to see an open show of the play under a tree in a large compound at ITO (Delhi's Fleet Street).
The ambience was perfect and the performance was well-received. Afterwards, actors and audience walked in single file, candles in hand, to the Police Headquarters at ITO, where they staged a silent sit-in to register their protest at the denial of freedom to perform at the India Habitat Centre, where their shows had been planned well in advance. Refusal to allow the performance came just three days before the planned dates (June 22 and 23), when tickets had already sold out.

A number of theatre-persons, students and activists joined the protest against the police diktat. At the protest on June 23, renowned dramatist M K Raina averred, "The police have no business to interfere in our profession. Even if the script has an element of controversy, it cannot be stopped from being performed."

The controversy surrounding the censorship of 'Mr Jinnah' also brings to mind the banning of 'Nathuram Godse Speaks' in 1999 by the Maharashtra government. Ironically, the Marathi version 'Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoy' had already been staged more than 85 times. After the English version was banned, though, the Marathi version suffered the same fate.

Interestingly, while 'Mr Jinnah' is a study of the man widely acknowledged to be one of the architects of Pakistan, 'Nathuram Godse Speaks' examines events from the perspective of a rightwing Hindu extremist whose personal trajectory led him to commit murder. (Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948.)

Both individuals represent facets of communal politics - from opposite sides in terms of religious association. While the former play shows Jinnah's development over the decades, his contribution to the creation of Pakistan and his remorse about the violence occasioned by Partition, the latter examines Godse's trajectory from being a supporter of Gandhi to a stage where he felt duty-bound to kill him. There are differences, of course. Jinnah was a sophisticated, intelligent, charismatic politician; and Godse an unknown person, whose one decisive act assured him a permanent, if unenviable, place in history.

Both plays are in-depth psychological studies of figures who crucially shaped the history of the subcontinent. We may question their contributions, criticize, and even condemn either one or both of them. But there is no reason why we should fear to study them or review their roles. In fact, critical and post-modern historiography teaches us the need to examine history from different angles.

However, when figures such as Jinnah or Godse - conventional villains of our standard history texts - are subjected to sympathetic study, it seems to raise the hackles of the powers-that-be. It is deeply worrying that the authorities in India are free to casually exercise arbitrary restraints on intellectual freedom.

The Indian Constitution guarantees a democratic model. Yet, the bane of censorship has always dogged our intellectual and political spaces. Pradeep Dalvi, writer of 'Nathuram Godse Speaks' and a second play 'Nathuram: An Experience', performed the second play only outside India. In this, Godse's ghost revisits the country and meets many people. Said Dalvi (back in 1999), "I will never show the play in India...India, I have written off."

Many people criticized Dalvi's sympathetic portrayal of Godse; Mahatma Gandhi's nephew Tushar Gandhi alleged, "The play glorifies Gandhi's murderer." Yet, objectionable views are not reason enough to ban a play. A democratic polity should be able to entertain the expression of all shades of opinion. India claims to be a plural society, with a free press and a public domain where artists and intellectuals are free to project diverse points of view.

Controversies and debates ought to be the stuff of daily political life and public debate. Openness to others' opinions, the readiness to frame and explain one's own thoughts and views, and flexibility as well as respect for differing perspectives should be basic values practiced in any open society. To disallow a cultural production because it presents an unconventional, or even unsavory, point of view, smacks of intolerance and bigotry.

The plays on Godse and Jinnah suffered from authoritarian and heavy-handed intervention, which actually feeds into furthering fundamentalism and brutal orthodoxies. While Godse's murder of Mahatma Gandhi was a heinous crime, to go against the right of another person to differ is to actually follow in Godse's footsteps rather than Gandhi's. Use of force, controls and violence in order to decide matters was Godse's strategy - certainly not Gandhi's!

Pritish Nandy - cultural mandarin and Rajya Sabha member from the Shiv Sena - spoke out against censorship, during the controversy over Dalvi's plays: "Government intervention in matters of art and literature is not just ugly, it is dangerous. It destroys the very spirit of democracy and free thinking and leaves bloody stains on the polity." Surprisingly - and ominously - matters have come to such a pass that the extreme right is preaching to bureaucrats about the virtues of tolerance!

Unless we watch out for the growing intolerance displayed by those in power - especially the police's increasing tendency to clamp down on fundamental democratic and human rights - we are moving towards a society that suppresses political thought, and freedom of expression and cultural performance.

– Deepti Priya Mehrotra
July 10, 2005

By arrangement with Womens Feature Service

Top | Society

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Jinnah Bhi Do, Yaaron by Keval Arora

theatre Publication: TOI ,Delhi Jul 10,2005, Section:Pg 13,Culture

‘Defer’ is such a sweet word, is it not? It sounds so ominously sensible, so brimming over with the milk of human decency, that the Delhi police must surely be wondering what all the fuss is about. I mean, they haven’t actually ‘banned’ (oh, that dreaded B-word!) Asmita’s latest play Jinnah, which was to have opened at the India Habitat Centre on 22nd June. They only ‘requested’ (another sweet word, that!) the group to ‘defer’ its performances so that their experts get time to examine the script.

Can anything be more polite and decorous than that! Ok, the police asked for the script with only a week to go for the shows, despite the fact that the application for performance had been submitted to them a whole month earlier. But that’s only bad timing, no? Hardly the kind of

thing that should get people worked up. So, it’s unfortunate that members of Asmita, along with others who believe in these silly things like freedom of speech, freedom of artistic creation and the free exchange of ideas, have not truly appreciated how difficult it must have been for our police to adopt such a phrasing, unaccustomed as they are to refined expression.

The poor police have also had other problems to contend with. Like, reading scripts, for instance, to determine whether the play should be performed. Whether the police should be doing this job is another matter altogether. (Incidentally, do you think you and I aren’t safe on our roads any more because they are busy reading playscripts?) That an entire script should be tarred as suspect because they couldn’t decipher an actor’s handwriting — which constituted, oh my God, a full FIVE percent of the typewritten script — must surely have been a tough decision for the police to take. So tough that even today, a full twenty two days since they first laid hands on the script, they still haven’t said a word about the text.

Who do the police think they are fooling? Do they really think anyone’s swallowed their sanctimonious platitude that they haven’t banned the play but simply requested it be deferred? When auditorium bookings don’t happen at short notice and a production that is deferred can take months to get on the boards again, when the police seem quite content to let things linger in limbo, it’s plain that this ‘deferment’ is in effect a ban. (Either that or the experts that the police have cobbled together have been laid low by some mysterious reading-disability!)

Actually, from the point of view of the police, deferring a production is far more convenient than banning it. Deferring s o m e t h i n g they have the gall to declare they know nothing about (because, after all, they claimed the script was illegible) discharges them from the obligation to see the production, negotiate its meaning and then give reasons for a ban. Perhaps that’s too much work. Perhaps, it may also over-strain our police force if it is expected to conduct itself in a logical and reasonable manner.

Some months ago, the Police Commissioner had himself read the script of The Vagina Monologues and cleared it for performance, after consulting with his female colleagues.

Notwithstanding my skepticism regarding their qualifications for this task, I wonder if Jinnah will even get similar attention. For, this is no high-flying production visiting Delhi but a home-grown play by Arvind Gaur, a stalwart of the local theatre scene.

I humbly suggest that while we wait for the police to ride out a storm of their own making, ordinary English users can use this event to brush up their language skills. All ye hopefuls out there, repeat after me: the word ‘BAN’ is henceforth to be spelt as ‘D-E-F-E-R’ — By Order (sorry, ‘Request’): the Delhi Police Handbook of Convenient Phrases.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Policing the theatre / ON STAGE - Kirti Jain

Kirti Jain / New Delhi July 02, 2005 / Business Standard

Are we living in a police state? Is all this talk about the largest democracy a sham? It would seem so from what one heard about a play performance being deferred...because the police did not permit the group to perform!

The play in question is Asmita’s Mr Jinnah, written by Narendra Mohan and directed by Arvind Gaur. It had been in rehearsal for a month before L K Advani got involved in the Jinnah controversy, and had obviously been written some months before that.

In the morning preceding the performance, the police informed the group that they were not granting permission to stage the play, at least not then as they had not read the play.

Why the police would want to read the play instead of looking after traffic, or enforcing law and order, is beyond comprehension.

There is every reason to believe, for arguments sake, that if the play had been called Mr Sharma (for instance), it would not have suffered this high handedness on the part of the police.

This raises many questions. By what law, or rule, does the police get the right to grant (or not grant) permission to perform a play? If there is such a rule, is it desirable?

How is the police qualified to judge the merits and demerits of a piece of art? If not them, then is there a committee of qualified experts to do this? Does anyone know how this committee is constituted? And then, of course, there is the larger question of censorship of art and its validity that is constantly under debate.

I can only attempt to answer one of these questions. In 1876, the British government, when it was uncomfortable with political plays that attacked it, and which were drawing popular acclaim from the audience, had promulgated a law that was called the Dramatic Performances Control Act.

As a result of this act and its draconian powers over the performing arts, the Indian audiences were completely deprived of any political or protest plays for almost a hundred years till the middle of the twentieth century. In effect , the law changed the shape of the Indian theatre during those years when theatre was really at its peak.

The British left but, unfortunately, this repressive act stayed on. For the last 60 years , several theatre people have approached the authorities to revoke the act.

They have also been given assurances that this would be done. But the law stays on. By and large it remains dormant but it is there to be imposed whenever the authorities feel shaky or in disagreement about the contents (and even, as in this case, the title of a play).

It is ironic that this law is used against theatre which is otherwise considered insignificant by most sections of our society, not least of all by the government.

So, any performance can be stopped at any time, as has been done in this case. So an amateur group, which is in any case cash-strapped, will now suffer further financial loss?

Who will compensate for this loss, apart from the loss of time and energy of a large group of artists, who have probably worked on the play for two months?

And why in independent India should any group wanting to perform, even non-commercially, have to run to four different departments of the police for permissions, before every performance? When, invariably, the authorities will keep you on tenterhooks till, quite literally, the very last moment.

It is a surprise that Delhi theatre practitioners still carry on doggedly in spite of these disincentives.

It must be their commitment that drives them — a commitment to create meaningful art; a commitment to share new insights with their audience; a commitment to bring to light what they perceive is wrong in society; and a commitment to entertain. Surely these people deserve better!

Tuesday, July 5, 2005


If we drop some ink on a piece of white paper, and ask people to describe what they see. Most of us will see only the blotch of ink. It will take an extremely aware mind to see the white paper around it and not focus on just one tiny stain.

Similarly when a person does something highly appreciable or just the opposite, in both cases, that one deed or misdeed becomes the signature of his character. We focus so much on the visibly outstanding aspect of a life or a person, that we only see the stain on his good deeds and ignore or choose not to acknowledge the background.

Whether it's made of gold or thorns the crown that sits on his head becomes his identity.

The story of “Mr.Jinnah” is one such story of a man, an institution in him self and a journey of a life, set in the form of a play. It's a journey which will take you into Jinnah's heart, mind, psyche and family, which played vital roles in the creation of a much loved, much respected and much detested and much followed persona of Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah.

The play is not just a comment on a statesman's career. It is, author Dr. Narendra Mohan's interpretation of an introspective dialogue of a great leader. A dialogue between his inner and outer self. A dialogue with his support system, which became one of the reasons for his success and downfall. It's a rediscovery of a stoic yet sensitive, introvert and modest man who played a pivotal part in two major upheavals in this part of the continent, first the partition of India, and second the formation of Pakistan.

Like most great tragedies, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello the play is more of a psychological scrutiny than a political retrospective or a historical docudrama. The visual treatment of the play is unconventional. The director has chosen a visual depiction of Jinnah’s introspection, his pain, regret and sorrow as out of body projections. The facets of his character, emotional outbursts are simultaneously expressed through his body, heart, mind and soul, played by four actors other than Jinnah himself.

It seems as if the soul of Jinnah is going around the roles he played in his life and how each role suffered for his decisions. The decisions, which either stemmed from fear, concern or ambition.

The protagonist like many other men was unable to express his feelings, and failed to communicate his pain to the people he was closest to. The three women, Fatimah his politically ambitious sister, Ratti his intelligent Parsi wife and Dina his loving daughter, mirror his angst, ambition and antipathy towards his fellow statesmen.

Quaid-e-Azam was all alone after he faced the two most tragic episodes, as his family ruptures, which he endured with the calm and acquiescence. He didn't disclose the anguish of his mind to anyone over these distressing separations.

A sister who proved to be a friend sacrificed her own dreams and became his shadow. She was his alter ego and later became the mother of the nation.

On the other hand Ratti whom he loved dearly was alienated in his political dreams. At 42 he dared to marry a Parsi girl several years younger than him.

But 22 years later the protective father and the over zealous politician almost suffocated his daughter's dreams. While he was aware of it and could not forgive himself, yet he couldn't mend the differences, which resulted in two most distressing estrangements in his family.

On one hand he was progressive and liberal but on the other hand his indifference towards his wife and daughter left him lonely and sad. Till his last days he thought of his daughter. He loved his home in Bombay and wanted to come back to live there.

A father, a friend, a husband, and then a broken man, lonely, hurt and betrayed due to his own lack of judgement. A man, who goes into a shell when he felt cheated, betrayed and misunderstood by many around him. A man who never wanted to hurt people, instead, to save some he jeopardized others and withered in his guilt pangs. It's a whole new perspective by the author into a very complex man who had more facets to his character than just a leader. He was just like us and yet he was much more than us.

A man who spend his entire life fighting for the inherent rights of his people and who took up a somewhat unconventional and largely misinterpreted cause of Pakistan, was likely to be misunderstood and bound to generate violent opposition and excite implacable hostility. Yet it’s remarkable that he received some of the greatest tributes in modern times, even from those who held a diametrically opposed viewpoint.

Sharat Chandra Bose, leader of the Forward Bloc, said on Jinnah’s death in 1948 -- "Mr Jinnah was great as a lawyer, once great as a Congress-man, great as a leader of Muslims, great as a world politician and diplomat, and greatest of all as a man of action. By Mr. Jinnah's passing away, the world has lost one of the greatest statesmen and Pakistan its life-giver, philosopher and guide".

Lord Pethick Lawrence, the former Secretary of State for India, said, "Gandhi died by the hands of an assassin; Jinnah died by his devotion to Pakistan".

Jinnah wanted to pursue theatre while he was in London. He was an art connoisseur. He had a compulsive disorder of washing hands. Was he a control freak? Or was it that his creative repression burst out in the form of aggression. Or was it just his ego, which was terribly hurt in the congress meeting. Or was it the love and concern for the future of his community at the hands of other fundamentalist that he did what he did?

Was it by chance that birth of Dina and the birth of Pakistan was on the same date, i.e. between the night of 14th and 15th August? Was it just a mockery of destiny that both his children Dina and Pakistan, whom he loved so much, ignored his authority and deserted him? And in his last days they both haunted him.

About the Author

Dr Narendra Mohan is an eminent playwright, poet and critic. He is a trendsetter (Vichar Kavita) in Hindi poetry and his discourse on Lambi Kavita (long poems) proved path breaking. His works on Manto, Partition of India, Protest and Literature are not just literary and historical documentation, they have inspired the future generations to delve deep into the socio-cultural and His literary diary 'Saath- Saath mera saya' has been hailed as a landmark as it unfolds, in a unique way, the private-personal, social and political upheavals of the last forty years on a multi-dimensional scale. The serial 'Ujale ki aur' scripted by him and directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee was widely appreciated. He has been honoured with top literary awards at the national and state levels.

His plays and poems have been translated into English and other Indian languages. He has participated in major national seminars and international poetry conventions. His poetry collections include 'Is Hadese mey', 'Samana hone par', 'Ek agnikand jagahey badalata', 'Hatheley par angarey ki tarah', 'Ek sulagti khamoshi', 'Ek khidki khuli hai abhi'.

Narendra Mohan's plays have been staged by eminent theatre groups and in national theatre festivals over the years. 'Mr Jinnah' is his latest play. He has been working on this play for the last three years. Extensive historical research and a sensitive probe into Jinnah's psyche has brought alive the multi-faceted personal-political drama of Jinnah's life in the play. The other plays written by him are 'Seengdhari', 'Kahe kabir suno bhai sadho', 'Kalandar', 'No man's land' and 'Abhang gatha'.

On Stage

(In order of appearance)

Hanif Azad - Prageet Pandit

Hamid - Ajit Kumar Mahato / Sushil Gautam

Jinnah(main) - Susan Brar

other jinnah - Pushpraj Rawat, Rohan, Girish Pal, Amit Rana

Fatimah - Anupam Pachauri

Ratti - Amita Walia

Shauqat Ali - Vishal Gaurav

Jawarhar Lal - Vipin Arora

Gandhi - Md. Shamim

Dina - Amita Walia
proxy - Sapna Khatana

Crowd / Mob - Vishal,Prageet,Praveen,Sushil,Naresh, Rajesh, Ashutosh, Shailendra Bist, Ajit, Rakesh, Manu, Avdhesh,
Siddharth, Sulaiman,Rajesh Mishra, Sandeep, Sanjay, Mohit,
Shamim, Ajit, Vipin, Manisha, Sangeeta,Asish ,Sunil Rawat,Arun Khatana

Annie Besant - Manisha Gulati

Chittaranjan Das - Siddharth Dubey

Bahadur Yaar Jung - Naresh Kabir

Guards - Mohit Chhabra, Praveen, Shailendra, Rajesh Mishra

Riot victim boy -Rajesh Thapa

Jamshed -Akhilesh Kumar (Praveen)

Commissioner - Sushil Gautam

Dunham (nurse) - Sangeeta Das

Dr. Ilahi Baksh - Manu Tyagi

Off Stage

Property -Girish Pal, Ajit Kumar Mahato,Sapna Khatana

Set Execution - Ajit Kumar Mahato, Sushil Gautam, Asish Nijhawan


Production Controller -Sandeep, Kranti Pratap Singh

Brochure - Sangeeta Das

NOC - Sandeep Srivastava, Susan Brar

Help with Urdu - Dr. Sadiq, Abdul Khaliq Azad

Music - Dr. Sangeeta Gaur

Playwright - Dr. Narendra Mohan

Direction - Arvind Gaur

special thanks to Virendra Kumar Baranwal



Arvind Gaur who heads the Delhi ,India based Theatre
group ASMITA is committed to innovative and socially
relevant theatre. Starting off as a journalist and
working for sometime for the electronic media, he set
up ASMITA and earned a reputation in theatre circle in
Delhi and abroad.

In the past 12 years, he has directed 48 major plays
which include Girish Karnad’s Tuglaq and Rakt Kalyan,
Dharamveer Bharti’s Andha Yug, Swadesh deepak’s Court
Martial, G P Deshpande’s Antim Divas, Albert Camus’
Caligula, Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions and Tara,
Eugene O’neill ‘s Desire Under the Elms, Dario Fo’s An
Accidental death of an Anarchist, Dr.Narenda Mohan's Kalandar,
Bertolt Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan and Caucasian chalk circle,
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, John Octanasek’s
Romeo Juliet and the darkness, Neil Simon’s The Good
Vijay tendulakr’s Ghairam Kotwal, Munshi
Premchand’s Moteram ka Satyagrah, Ashok Lal’s Ek
Mamooli aadmi, Rajesh Kumar’s Me Gandhi Bolto ,
Doodnath Singh's Yama Gatha,

Women in Black ( written & acted by Bubbles Sabharwal)
,Untitled Solo by Lushin dubey, Uday Prakash’s Warren
Hastings ka Saand, Pinki Virani’s Bitter Chocolate,
(solo by lushin Dubey)
Bhishma Sahani's Madhavi & Manjula Padmanbhan' Hidden
Fires ( both solo by actress Rashi Bunny),Walking
Through the Rainbow ( joint production with PCVC, solo
by rashi bunny)

Arvind Gaur has been invited to perform in theatre
festivals organized by National School of Drama,
(Bharat Rang Mahotsava), Sangeet Natak Akademi,
Sahitya Kala Parisad,Nandikar and Vivachana Theatre
Festival, Old World Theatre Festival,National School
of Drama weekend theatre, Muktibodh Natya
Samaroh,World Social Forum and Nehru Centre Festival

Arvind Gaur has conducted many theatre workshops and
directed productions in different colleges & schools in Delhi.
Such as L.S.R., I.P., Gargi, Jawahar Lal Nehru
University, Hindu college,I.I.T.(Delhi), Aditi college,
School of Planning and Arhitecture (SPA) and Mother International school.
Workshops for children in schools and slums as well as Street
Theatre performances on different socio-political
issues organized and conducted by Arvind Gaur are many
in number.

He has also conducted theatre workshops for Actors and
Directors at Houston, USA and India Habitat centre,
New Delhi. He also performed various plays in
collobration with culture organizations like Theatre
World, British Council ( channai) ,Paridhi, bahroop,
Banjara Theatre group (IIT , Khargpur ),Rainbow
Cavaliers ,3M Dot Band (Jaipur) , Vivchana
(Jabalpur),Prithvi Theatre Festival ( platform theatre
IHC ,2004) and NGOs like Mobile Crèches, Action Aid ,
Haq, PCVC, Deepalaya , Heinrich Boll Foundation ,Asian
Social Forum and world social forum.

He also design lights for NAYA theatre under the
Direction of Shri Habib Tanvir.

Director Arvind Gaur has also collaborated with
various Theatre artists and Groups specially in
exploring a new language for Solo performances. His
latest ventures include ‘Women in Black’ by Bubbles
Sabharwal and “Untitled Solo” by Lushin Dubey in
collaboration with THEATRE WORLD. Not only have these
plays received great audience response from important
metropolis of India, “Women in black” was invited to
perform in Dubai and “Untitled Solo” was performed in
Chicago, Dallas, Washington DC, Boston, Rochester ,
San francisco, Ohio, Harvard university & Stratford in
USA and at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival last year .

"Bitter Chocolate " a new solo by Lushin was also
performed at Harvard (USA) and recently at Nehru
Centre, London.

With Rashi Bunny, young actress trained in Theatre
design at University of Alabama at Birmingham and
Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. Arvind Gaur Has
directed three solos .Bhishma sahani's" Madhavi ",
Manjula Padmanabhan's "Hidden fires " & Walking through the rainbow
( for PCVC, Channai)

Madhavi & Hidden fires has received rave reviews all
over and have been invited to perform for Mahindra's
OLD WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL, Vivachana National Theatre
Festival Jabalpur, Muktibodh Natyaotsav raipur, 5th
national Theatre Festival Balaghat ,World Social forum
Mumbai and National School Of Drama (N.S.D.),
Satta Festival Jaipur,
Theatre Club J.N.U., PCVC chennai and Queen's Award Project
(UK) for Communal Harmony.

Bishma Sahani's MADHAVI ,Solo by Rashi Bunny &
directed by Arvind Gaur,received special award for
best play in experimentaion with tradition at
International Solo Theatre Festival Armenia.



Asmita (A sedulous Move for Innovative Theatre Activities) stands committed to aesthetically innovative and socially relevant theatre. It takes up contemporary issues to underline the contours of our time while providing the best of entertainment. It is today one of the leading HINDI theatre groups in the country. To date it has 48 productions to its credit.

All these plays have been directed by Asmita’s resident director Arvind Gaur. For Asmita theatre has a purpose of awakening the audience and creating a dialogue on prevailing social problems. It has carved a niche for itself in the Delhi theatre scene by staging plays of varied socio-political interest while not losing out on mass appeal.

Contacts- 09312233561
- 011-22116554(India)

" I'd rather be a forest than a street
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would
I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet
Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would "