Mumbai's iconic art festival known for its rich portrayal of contemporary art and culture took little consideration while bending over backwards following threats from rightwing Hindu groups.
The play dubbed as 'Ali J' was scheduled to take place on Thursday, Feburary 6. However, following threats by a Hindu nationalist group, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, that called for the play to be cancelled terming it as 'anti-national' and that it 'spreads communal–hatred'.
On their website, that boasts a tagline 'For establishment of a Hindu nation', the group accuses the play of glorifying Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who they blame for partition of India 67 years ago. The website also states that it led a motely crew of right wing groups to submit a complaint in the Colaba police station, a fact also confirmed by the police. Along with this a warning was also issued to the organisers that if attempts were made to stage its show, the group would hold demonstrations. “Patriotic Hindus are registering their protest,” it stated.
Protest : Show of play ‘Ali J’ glorifying Jinnah to be staged on 6 Feb at Mumbai http://t.co/gZPXcm53Pc
— Hindujagrutiorg (@hindujagrutiorg) February 5, 2014
So what is 'Ali J' really about?
Touted as a political thriller, Ali J is a one act play starring Karthik Kumar, and deals with being Muslim in today's India. However, Sunil Vishnu K, director of Evan Entertainment that produced the play, in conversation with dna, explains, “It is not anti-national or anti-Hindu! If anything, it implores concerns of a generation about partition.”
Further calling the accusations to be unfounded, Sunil is appalled that the protesters would boycott the play without even having watched it. “The play deals with ideas of secularism and unity. It is far from being anti-national!”
Ironically, Sunil explains, the play imagines how things would be if we were all a little more tolerant.
The show was earlier presented in Bangalore and also faced some mild objections by local Hindu groups. But Sunil informs how the theatre community in the city, led by renowned personality Arundathi Nag, came out in solidarity to ensure a peaceful and successful showcase.
Commenting on the art festival's decision to drop the play, Sunil says, “Kalaghoda was made to believe that there would be a law and order situation if they showed Ali J. My play wasn't dropped because the law forbids it; on the contrary, it was because such situations were created, that suppressed our freedoms to present it.”
Web to the rescue
But even as Kalaghoda backs out and refuses to provide a platform to present this theatre, YouTube comes as a much stronger alternative. The show will air online on Thursday at 5.30 pm on Evam Entertainment's YouTube channel.
“It isn't just about this play,” explains Sunil. “It is about freedom of speech. Or else anything and everything can be banned just because someone claimed that it was 'anti-national'.”
On a Facebook group protesting the cancellation of the play screening, the producers point out, “Ali J was prevented from performing based on protests and threats from fundamentalist groups, without them even watching the play. This is an outrage against the freedom of speech and artistic expression, in a secular Democracy. You have stopped us from performing using force; but can you stop people from watching it?”
“I only want to share this play with the masses,” Sunil explains his decision to make Ali J available on a public platform, which is sure to cost him. “I want people to watch it, share it and talk about it. I want them to see for themselves if whether the play evokes anti-national emotions.”
He urges people to watch the play in solidarity of freedom of speech. “If this becomes a trend, then we, the artists, might as well pack our bags and go,” he says in conclusion.