Friday, August 04, 2006

Controversy surrounds Theatre of Fire yet again

Poster image from Substation
MDA withdraws licence for play due to racial undertones Posted: 04 August 2006 1739 hrs, Channelnewsasia

SINGAPORE : The Media Development Authority (MDA) is withdrawing the licence for a play that was scheduled to be performed by a group called Agni Kootthu on Saturday night.

MDA says the play called “Smegma”, comprising 10 playlets, undermines the values in Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious society.

According to the Authority, the play portrays Muslims in a negative light.

The majority of the Arts Consultative Panel also found most of the content of the play insensitive and inappropriate for staging.

They were also concerned the play could create unhappiness and disaffection among Muslims.

This is believed to the first time that MDA has issued and then withdrawn a licence for a play. - CNA/ms
The play, written & directed by Elangovan and presented by a local arts group, Agni Kootthu (Tamil for Theatre of Fire), was scheduled to be performed at the Substation over the weekend.

The publicity material for the play has a tagline which says “Truth is the enemy of the state”.

It goes on to give a synopsis of the play.....
In every society, the privileged groups’ control over and exploitation of the disadvantaged groups is the key source to social problems. These problems endlessly shape the material and spiritual landscapes of the outsiders. The outsiders’ education and environment generates beliefs and values that are diametrically opposed to the empowered status quo and if unchecked will fester and spread like virulent disease to destroy everything set by the powers that be.

SMEGMA explores this plastic society’s hidden hierarchies by surfacing the experiences of its outsiders: - Would you rape for the sake of your country? Would you kill children for your faith? Are you a transsexual waiting for God at the MRT station? Are you a Foreign Talent who thinks Singaporeans are bloody stupid? Would you kill for your right to smoke in a bus stop? Are you an ex-opposition politician who believes in freedom of expression in the cell? Are you a foreign maid selling you virginity for financial safety? Do you like to make love to under-aged girls on weekends? Would you throw pork into a prayer session? Would you employ an illegal immigrant ghost? Are you a pregnant suicide-bomber who wants to take the children and MP to heaven?

SMEGMA interrogates the ‘moral, cultural, religious, political, economical legitimacy world’ from many different perspectives of the underdogs and their masters. When the comfort-zone is shattered ugliness rears its head like cheesy SMEGMA.
I’m not really too much into plays and stuff. I’m not saying its all rubbish or anything like that. Of course not. I guess for me the subject matter is what will pull me to any artistic performance especially plays. Especially those about politics; race; religion; social issues, etc or a combination of these. So it comes as a disappointment that the license for SMEGMA was withdrawn ‘cos the synopsis was interesting.

After reading the CNA report, I was trying to recall another controversy a few years back involving the authorities and Agni Kootthu. I did a search on google to see if I could find anything and I did.

I’ve selected a few links to different websites on what happened back in 2000, when Agni Kootthu performed another play called Talaq (Divorce) which was also written & directed by Elangovan. AWARE responded on the Censorship of Talaq. The play was also brought up in parliament. And a local human rights NGO commented on it. There are many more links to news, stories and reports out there if you care to look.

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