Mumbai (Matters India): Controversial play ‘Agnes of God’ was staged at the NCPA peacefully under police monitoring on Monday evening. But the pot was kept boiling with director Kaizaad Kotwal, addressing the audience, saying he was “thrilled that artistes can still be dangerous”. “People are seeking a few minutes of cheap attention. This country deserves better. We will prevail,” he said.
Christian groups, which have been opposing the play on the ground that it hurts their religious feelings, have taken offence to this statement that they claim ridicules their sentiments. “An artiste’s freedom of expression is not limitless enough to hurt my religious sentiments. His words will stoke further anger and resentment among the Christian community,” said one activist. Another said Kotwal missed the opportunity for reconciliation.
‘Agnes of God’ deals with the story of a nun who gave birth to a baby and killed it, allegedly in a bout of insanity.
The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) is demanding a ban, and has forced two cancellations: one at Sophia Bhabha auditorium in Pedder Road last week and two upcoming shows in Hyderabad on October 9-10. The archdiocese of Bombay and other Christian NGOs have focused their ire on the “offensive” advertisements without seeking a ban. The producers have withdrawn the ads, The Times of India reported.
On Monday, BJP spokesperson Shaina NC facilitated a meeting of producer Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal and CSF with minority affairs minister Eknath Khadse. “It is not the state’s job to ban a play, and this one has a legitimate (censor) certificate,” said Khadse, and asked the CSF to see the play and appeal before the censor board or seek legal recourse.
“We will see a recording of the play and point out all the objectionable scenes and dialogues so that we can press for a ban,” said CSF chief Joseph Dias. Asked if he was not exercising extra-constitutional authority, he replied: “Christian sentiments are hurt. We will not resort to violence but other groups might.” He declined to specify who these could be.
The matter has revealed dissonance within the Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) led by Cardinal Cleemis in New Delhi wrote to home minister Rajnath Singh, asking for the play to “not be staged pending a study on its impact and inquiry into its contents and consultations with the Church”. The archdiocese of Bombay is content to see the controversial ad removed.
It turns out that Dias had persuaded Cleemis to write the letter. “I said we should do something to stop this play, and he (Cleemis) asked how we should go about it. I asked him to write to the government asking for a ban,” said Dias. Cardinal Cleemis is in Rome and could not be reached.
In Hyderabad, the Birla Science Centre cancelled two shows at Dias’ instance on Monday. “We have done the best that could be done under the given circumstances,” they wrote.