First bikinis and Mini-skirts, now political theatre: Goa BJP to muzzle neta criticism in ‘tiatrs’

First, it was about banning bikinis and mini-skirts, then brow-beating ‘rogue’ NGOs and activists.

Now, the Opposition as well as civil society, has charged the Goa government with muzzling the socially oriented, but slapstick Konkani theatre. It is extremely popular, especially with the Christian community which accounts for more than a quarter of the state’s population.

Organisers and artistes performing in the tiatrs (Konkani theatre) may soon have to submit a formal undertaking to south Goa’s biggest and most well-known state-run theatre performing facility, the Ravindra Bhavan, promising not to speak against politicians, government officials and VIPs, while performing onstage.

Goa’s social media, civil society and the tiatr-world was first shocked and then went into a tizzy after an Opposition MLA Vijai Sardessai on Monday, brandished in the state legislative assembly a document, which he claimed was sourced from the Ravindra Bhavan and openly threatened censorship of Goa’s most popular and revenue generating live art-form.

The controversial ‘undertaking form’, which he claimed has to be signed by the theatre groups before staging a performance, directs artistes and the organizer to ensure that there is “no criticism of the government, ministers, MLAs/VIPs  made during on-stage performances at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao”.

“No criticism of any individual/institution shall be made during on-stage performances at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao,” it also says, further warning the signee, that they would not be allowed use of the facility if they violate these norms.

Goa’s minister for Art and Culture Dayanand Mandrekar did not refute the legitimacy of the document, but distanced himself from the issue by telling the House that it could have been issued by semi-autonomous bodies which function under his ministry, such as the Ravindra Bhavan.

But Sardessai claims that the document, coming on the heels of demands for a ban on revealing clothing and a crackdown on NGOs and activists, only goes to show that there is already an “undeclared emergency” in Goa imposed by the BJP-led coalition government.

“You are bringing a legislation to bring NGOs to book, a case has been filed against the leader of opposition and now you are silencing tiatrists. This is an undeclared emergency,” Sardessai said.

Interestingly, Sardessai was also joined by ruling MLA Vishnu Wagh, himself an accomplished playwright and writer, who wants the state art and culture ministry to lay their hands off theatre artists.


“Tiatr also has a social context. Onstage, tiatr songs and actors often comment and discuss about what’s happening around them. They criticise too and sometimes they cross the line. If they criticise, we have laws to handle it, but why should a government fear criticism,” Wagh said.

For thousands of Goans, 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.

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 erstwhile Bombay.

The story goes that the first Konkani adaptation of the Operetta was performed in Mumbai in 1892, which makes the tiatr legacy more than a century old.

‘Prince’ Jacob, who could with all modesty be reckoned as the Amitabh Bachchan of Goa’s tiatr, claims that signing such an undertaking could spell disaster for this creative legacy, which has often thrived on taking on errant politicians and shortcomings in society.


“…This is dictatorship. Who are these people to tell us what to do… Today they are telling us what not to do. Tomorrow they will be telling us to write the tiatr like this or like that,” said Jacob, who incidentally heads the state-run Tiatr Academy of Goa. Jacob insisted that his reaction was “personal”.

Wilson Mazarello, who goes by the name of ‘Wilmix’ another renowned tiatrist, however chose not to mince his words.

“We oppose this tooth and nail… and will continue to do so… in our country no government nor Ravindra Bhavan can pass strictures on freedom of expression,” Mazarello told Firstpost.

The chairman of the Ravindra Bhavan Damu Naik however claimed that the controversy over the undertaking form was politically motivated and that the undertaking form had been drafted by the organisation’s junior official and was still in “draft” phase.

“It was drafted by a junior official, with the assistance of an eminent tiatrist. It is still in draft stage. The general body of Ravindra Bhavan has not discussed it,” he said.

The controversy comes at a time when the BJP-led coalition government has been accused from several quarters of taking the conservative right route, especially when in face of failure to deliver “good governance”.

“To hide its failure in good governance, Freedom of Expression is sought to be curbed by attempting to impose restrictions on Goa’s tiatrists by the Ravindra Bhavan Chairman, who is an appointee of the BJP Government in Goa,” says Rabindra Pimenta, a regular commentator on Facebook.

A series of controversies over the last couple of months, ranging from threatening Facebook users with arrests for uploading posts against ruling politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cabinet ministers clamouring for making the country a Hindu nation and demanding a ban on bikinis, mini-skirts and ‘pub-culture’ and indications of a law to initiate action against “rogue” NGOs and activists may have only lent more credence to the popular notion here that efforts are on to curb freedom of speech in the beach known otherwise for a laid-back appeal and often to some degree, a bohemian lifestyle.

Courtesy:First Post



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