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Controversy Over Male Nudity in Malayalam Play Staged in Theatre Festival

NSD issues notice to award-winning director Suveeran. Writer Paul Zacharia and former Kerala Culture Minister M A Baby back him.
Controversy Over Male Nudity in Malayalam

Kochi: A controversy has erupted in the world of theatre arts in the country after the National School of Drama (NSD) issued a notice seeking clarification from a director for including an act of nudity in his play staged at one of the prestigious festivals in Puducherry recently.

The Malayalam play 'Bhaskara Pattelarum Thommiyude Jeevithavum' (Bhaskara Pattelar and Life of Thommy) staged at Bharat Rang Mahotsav-International Theatre Festival of India, 2020, in Puducherry on February 12 is directed by Suveeran, a best feature film National awardee for 'Byari' (2011).

The play is based on the novella titled "Bhaskara Pattelarum Entey Jeevithavum", authored by famous Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia.

In a letter seeking clarification from Suveeran, the NSD said some who saw the play at the festival had "huge objection" to the act of nudity in the play.

The play was presented before the audience comprising the chairperson of the NSD society and many other dignitaries, it said.

The NSD said as per law, nudity and obscenity is banned in public performance.

Responding to the allegation, Suveeran said he, as a director, personally believed that if nudity can enhance the total feel of the play it can even be used in public staging.

"How can one say that the rules one should observe in public places are applicable in art as well? It is something a director and artiste like me can never comprehend. The play was staged in a closed place before a group of invited guests. Is the place akin to a public place? Suveeran told PTI.

The NSD said the play was chosen for the festival after a two-tier selection process out of hundreds of applicants and claimed there was no scene of nudity in the DVD of the play submitted to it by Suveeran.

"In view of this, it is clear a breach of agreement by including an act of nudity in the play held on 12th February at Puducherry without prior information and approval of NSD authority," the NSD said.

Suveeran said the DVD submitted to the NSD was for quality analysis.

The director said he has never ever heard of censorship in plays.

Suveeran said a play is not a mechanical imitation of the video documentation of its first performance.

"The organic nature of plays give the director freedom to intervene and improve the performance in each ensuing stage," he said.

"The protagonist of the play I directed is a slave who is almost always naked in the play. He is clad in a torn dhothi which he uses to cover his nudity. At times the torn cloth slips from his hands and exposes his nudity for a while. This culminates in the final scene in which he runs away totally naked," Suveeran said in his response to NSD's charge.

Writer Paul Zacharia and former Kerala Culture Minister M A Baby came out in support of Suveeran.

"By including the act of nudity of the character Thommy in the play, the director could do justice to the character in my novella," Zacharia told PTI.

Thommy is a Christian migrant labourer from Kerala who is an obedient slave of his tyrannical landlord Bhaskara Pattelar in the novella.

Baby slammed the NSD for making unnecessary controversy over the issue, saying the current authorities of the NSD lacked sense of Indian culture.

"The deficit of culture is what gets reflected in this kind of responses from National School of Drama. I consider such responses obscene," Baby told PTI.

Criticising the NSD on the issue, Baby said Suveeran's work of art is "the theatre translation of a great literary piece of Zachariah, which was already made into a great film by Adoor Gopalakrishnan with the name Vidheyan."

"Such explorations are what are required in our society today," said Baby, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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