The BJP-led Goa government's third attempt in the last one year to censor a nearly tiatr or teatro, a century-old street theatre form, has triggered outrage in the influential theatre community and invited flak from the opposition.
While the opposition has accused the Goa government of being dictatorial, over 400 tiatr performers, including the biggest exponents of the organic performing art form, have accused the government of muzzling freedom of expression. The controversy comes at a time when newly-appointed Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson Pankaj Nihalani has issued a controversial diktat blacklisting ‘offensive’ words from Indian films.
“Any move to have this censored in advance will kill the very spirit and the nature of this art form,” Francis de Tuem, a popular tiatrist who has in the past been arrested for allegedly defamatory songs, said. He is one of the 400 tiatr performers who signed a memorandum earlier this week swearing to oppose what they call a draconian move by the government.
For thousands of Goans, especially Catholics, a tiatr is more than just a play or a theatre outing. With its socially and politically 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.
Tiatrs are usually made up of two components – the play and the songs between acts. These are necessarily unconnected to each other. Interestingly, the roots of the tiatr are embedded not in an Indian art form, but owes its inspiration to Italian operettas which were a rage in colonial India, especially in Bombay (now Mumbai) right from the late 1800s.
Which is why the BJP-ruled government’s move to enact the “Goa Licensing and Controlling Places Of Public Amusement (Other Than Cinema) and Performances for Public Amusement Rules 2015″ has set the proverbial alarm bells ringing. Director of Information and Publicity Arvind Bugde has already confirmed to the media that 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”.
“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,” Oscar Rebello, a member of the AAP, said.
This is not the first time that attempts have been made by the present government to control tiatrs. Last August, during a discussion in the assembly, legislators, including Caitu Silva of the Goa Vikas Party, claimed they had been personally targeted during tiatr performances and had demanded that the art form should be reined in.
Later, right wing Hindu outfit Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) submitted a memorandum to the government seeking a censor board keep a check on tiatrs and ‘nataks’.
The demand was made in the wake of a tiatr titled ‘Atankvadi 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 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. Now, the Congress has charged the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government with being dictatorial in its repeated efforts to stifle the popular art form.
“Tiatr are in fact public censors for what is wrong in society. The government will have to face a backlash from the Congress, as well as the tiatrists (tiatr-performers) if they go ahead with this dictatorial decision,” Congress spokesperson Agnelo Fernandes said. The BJP has, however, rejected the allegations, claiming no move is afoot to control live stage performances.
“Neither the government nor the BJP as a party have anything on our minds about censoring tiatr. This is just a figment of imagination used by the opposition to attack the party,” BJP state vice president Wilfred Mesquita said. (IANS)