Sunday, August 06, 2006

Early curtains for provocative play by TODAY

I suggest you read my related post Controversy surrounds Theatre of Fire yet again before going on to read the following report by TODAY. Of course, being another government mouthpiece, it doesn’t really focus much on the other side’s views and perspectives.

Early curtains for provocative play

A day before its opening, MDA says it portrayed Muslims negatively

Weekend • August 5, 2006

Loh Chee Kong AND Ashraf Safdar
cheekong@newstoday.com.sg

LESS than 30 hours before it was to open on Saturday evening, the Media Development Authority (MDA) pulled the plug on controversial playwright P Elangovan’s latest work.

The MDA announced that it was withdrawing the arts entertainment licence for Mr Elangovan’s provocative offering which, it said, portrayed Muslims negatively.

It is the first time the MDA has disallowed the staging of a play since it was formed in 2003 and took over the licensing of arts entertainment from the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (Pelu). The agency issued some 1,200 arts entertainment licenses last year with about a fifth of those requiring a rating.

Mr Elangovan, too, was initially granted a licence on Aug 1 to stage his full-length play over two nights during the weekend at The Substation.

But in its press statement on Friday, the MDA said that it was banning the production Smegma, which was scheduled to be performed by theatre group Agni Kootthu, as it was “insensitive and inappropriate for staging”.

The MDA added that it had consulted the Arts Consultative Panel — a committee formed in 2004 and made up of 35 members including arts and media professionals, educators and grassroots representatives — and its members were “concerned that the play could create unhappiness and disaffection amongst Muslims”.

The synopsis for the play, which was to be staged at The Substation’s 100-seater Guinness Theatre, read: “The bizarre experiences and incidents in the play interrogate the moral, cultural, religious, political, economical legitimacy world from many perspectives of the underdogs and their masters. When the comfort zone is shattered, ugliness rears its head like smelly smegma.”

With its script filled with Hokkien and English expletives, the play consists of 10 vignettes.

These included one which depicted Singaporeans’ sexual escapades with underaged girls overseas and a class of kindergarten children calling their Member of Parliament a “pig”.

Another scene scripted also has three men in a prison cell making fun of the Singapore flag.

Mr Elangovan, 48, told Today that he had submitted the script last month and was granted a licence for it under an RA (18) rating for “strong language and adult themes” on Tuesday. That very same day, however, he was also informed of the National Arts Council’s decision to cut its funding for the play due to “sensitive content”.

Beneath the coarse language and disturbing scenes, Mr Elangovan said that Smegma “analyses the five stars on the Singapore flag”.

After hearing of MDA’s decision through a phone call on Friday afternoon — he was informed in writing about three hours later — he told Today that he was “unsurprised”.

”This is always happening to me,” said the playwright, who, in his 33-year career, has been labelled a maverick by his milder critics and a “rabble-rouser” by his harsher ones.

In 2000, another of his plays, Talaq — about an Indian-Muslim woman’s brush with marital violence — was banned by Pelu in the face of protests from Muslim and Indian authorities.

In 1975, he was investigated by the Internal Security Department because of his reinterpretation of a classical Indian story where a Muslim and Hindu King have a conversation.

When Today spoke to the playwright-cum-director about Smegma earlier, Mr Elangovan said that he doesn’t intentionally write incendiary material.

But in this case, the MDA indicated that he had crossed the line. It said: “Smegma undermines the values underpinning Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society. The play portrays Muslims in a negative light.”

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