Exeunt...CPM shooting at theatre movement
Author: Jaideep Mazumdar
Date: June 2, 2008
Introduction: Post Nandigram firing, the Communists are shooting at
another movement: the theatre
If you can't silence them, starve them of work. That seems to be the
credo of the CPI(M) in West Bengal.
Its target: theatre personalities who were vocal in their opposition to
the CPI(M)'s depredations in Nandigram. Over the past year, dissenting
directors and artistes have seen 'call shows' (invitations for staging
plays) decline to a trickle and have found it impossible to hire
government-owned auditoriums. Plays by directors like Kaushik Sen and
Arpita Ghosh, who have been in the forefront of Nandigram-related
protests, have witnessed last-minute cancellations. Faced with imminent
financial ruin, many directors are openly contemplating switching to
other creative pursuits.
Successful director Bratya Basu is one of the CPI(M)'s targets. He told
Outlook: "All my earlier plays received a surfeit of call shows. But
over the past one year, such invites have dipped to some two per cent of
what I used to receive-that's soon after I started speaking out against
what happened at Nandigram. I've been advised to stop criticising the
government and concentrate only on my theatre."
Call shows are the lifeline of theatre groups. The invitations come from
educational institutions, local clubs and cultural associations. Notes
Bibhas Chakraborty, who resigned as Paschim Banga Natya Akademi
president, protesting the police firing in Nandigram in March 14 last
year: "The CPI(M) operates at various levels-often in an insidious
manner. It is well known that the party dominates the state's cultural
sphere. It has been using its clout to stop invites coming to people
Kaushik Sen tops the list of those marked out by the CPI(M). Perhaps the
most vociferous critic of the party among theatre personalities, Kaushik
felt the backlash immediately after his post-March 14 protests. "A
school invited my theatre group. I told them I'd stage Tagore's famous
Dakghar, but they told me it had political overtones. I then decided on
Satyajit Ray's apolitical Bonkubabur Bandhu. Even so, the show got
cancelled. I came to know they were pressured by the local CPI(M) MLA.
Ever since, I haven't been receiving invitations to stage my plays,"
Kaushik told Outlook.
Shaonli Mitra's group Pancham Baidik has also been blacklisted. Ever
since Shaonli and her associates like Arpita Ghosh hit the streets on
Nandigram, they have been rendered jobless. Belghoria Ethic, a theatre
group from a Calcutta suburb, launched an anti-genocide forum, Ganahatya
Birodhi Nagarik Mancha, post Nandigram. It organised a convention on the
subject; this led a library that was its chief patron to sever all links
with the group. "The library's action was dictated by local CPI(M)
leaders," says Ethic's Debashish Sengupta.
The experiences of two prominent theatre directors are revealing. Manoj
Mitra and Meghnad Bhattacharya, who resigned along with others from the
Natya Akademi after the Nandigarm killings, had their shows at a college
at Raniganj and in Cooch Behar cancelled abruptly. "I was shocked to
hear about the cancellation, especially since I had been associated with
Raniganj College for decades. Luckily a senior CPI(M) leader intervened
and the cancellation was withdrawn," Manoj told Outlook. The senior
CPI(M) leader was industries minister Nirupam Som.
In Meghnad's case, it was chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's
intervention that led to the organisers reissuing the invitation to
him."The fact that the CM and the industries minister intervened proves
that withdrawing the invitations was the handiwork of the CPI(M). Why
should theatre directors at all have to depend on ministers for
survival?" wonders Bibhas Chakraborty.
Meghnad, who heeded the CM's request to rejoin the Natya Akademi,
unwittingly admitted the CPI(M)'s sinister role. "All this is the
handiwork of lower-level CPI(M) functionaries. The CM himself admitted
he has no control over such people," Meghnad told Outlook in defence of
A spate of cancellations has led to directors like Bratya Basu thinking
of exploring other options. "At this rate, I doubt if I can continue in
theatre," he says. Others like Debesh Chattopadhyay are also thinking of
giving up. If people like Bratya and Debesh were to quit, the CPI(M)
would have achieved its motto of sending the message that there's a
price to pay for dissent. But that would be at the cost of throttling
Bengal's culturally important art form-the theatre.