Talking Theatre: Tamaasha’s guided viewing of the play ‘S*X, M*RALITY, CENS*RSHIP’

It is really amazing how theatrewalas re-invented themselves during lonely, lockdown days; and moved from physical space to online platforms. Solo acts, webinars, live reading of stories, theatre festivals, podcasts, guided viewing of earlier recorded plays…they devised imaginative ways of attracting audiences to virtual theatres.

One such show which will be streamed this Sunday, on November 22, at 6 pm, is from the Theatrenama series by Sunil Shanbag, for Studio Tamaasha Online. Aired earlier in September, this episode of Theatrenama is a guided viewing of a 2009 play, called S*X, M*RALITY, CENS*RSHIP. The multi-layered 2009 production, written by Shanta Gokhale and Irawati Karnik, looked at the censor problems a Vijay Tendulkar-written play, Sakharam Binder, faced in the 1970s. With a lavani dancer and a shayar as sutradhars, the Sunil Shanbag-directed play questioned the archaic practice of scripts being scrutinised by state authorities before they can be staged.

Streaming excerpts from Sex Morality Censorship in a manner that makes sense to someone who hasn’t seen the play, and interspersing these with comments and insights from the writers and cast in a viewer-friendly manner, to present different facets of the 2009 play, must have been extremely challenging.So, we spoke to writers, Sunil Shanbag and Irawati Karnik on how this episode of Theatrenama took shape. “The idea of the guided viewing was to show how censorship as an idea was developed into a full-fledged stage production,” explains Shanbag.

Elaborating further, he reveals, “We mapped the progression of the idea with the flow of the play, finding moments in the play which illustrated how the idea developed. This also allowed us to choose which portions of the play to show. Of course, we made sure the sequence of excerpts and our comments gave the audience a coherent view of the narrative of the play.

“The seamless quality was achieved by the correct arrangement of the sequence, bringing in actors when their experience or memory added something to the narrative, and also by sheer rehearsals to get everything right. Just like we would do for a performance of a play!”

That they did get it right was evident from the enthusiastic response they got from online viewers from across the world, who ‘went backstage’ after the show, to brainstorm with the team.

Irawati narrates, “An important idea of the theatre-going experience is hanging around backstage after the show, chatting with audience members, cast and crew of the play, drinking tea and coffee. The online backstage idea did that for a lot of the people. When we watch performances online, once the event is over, we look around and we are alone. It can be isolating. But here, people got to be with each other a little longer. Some of them spoke a lot, asked questions, shared their impressions, responses etc. Others preferred to soak in the atmosphere. But the point is, that because of the ‘backstage space’, there was an atmosphere of warmth and connectedness. What was additionally surprising was that it was not just people associated with the field of theatre who were interested in the idea of ‘process’. We saw that this medium lends itself very well in incorporating the conversation around ‘play-making’ into the ‘play-viewing’ experience.”

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