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Frontal nudity row in play recall

A city theatre group has pulled out a production inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedies apparently because of “attacks” for showing frontal male nudity in a scene between Othello and Desdemona.

In a newspaper advertisement on January 9, the group, Kasba Arghya, announced that Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet would be staged for the third and last time that day.

The reason for the abrupt stop to the staging of the play that had been a year in the making was “violent intolerant attacks by some immature people”, the advertisement stated.

The prime accused according to Kasba Arghya helmsman Manish Mitra, who has directed the play, is theatre person Shyamal Bhattacharya.

Mitra said Bhattacharya had dubbed him “deshodrohi (traitor)” and “rapist” on Kasba Arghya’s Facebook page. Several others, he alleged, expressed their disgust and made “indecent queries regarding the (Dutch) actress (Noa) playing Desdemona over the phone”.

Is Calcutta’s theatre audience — which has warmly received Manipuri play Draupadi, in which the protagonist disrobes herself to protest the sexual assault on her — intolerant and prudish?

Nandikar director Rudraprasad Sengupta said the public accepted Draupadi unquestioningly. “It (actress Sabitri Heisnam throwing off her clothes) was a powerful and frightening experience. And to the actress it must have been extremely difficult. Calls for great dedication.”

Theatre critic and scholar Shamik Bandyopadhyay — who recalled “Draupadi has been staged some 20 times in Calcutta and the suburbs, and no one objected” — said the way nudity in Mitra’s play was “advertised and the whole thing is being sensationalised” is “disturbing and disgusting”.

“If the director decides to pull out the play, he is free to do so. But who is talking about this play? Who is bothered? I haven’t met anyone who felt the need to talk about it. I think all this is very frivolous,” said Bandyopadhyay.

Kaushik Sen alleged that Mitra had called Shyamal Bhattacharya thrice early in the morning and “threatened him” about the posts. He, and stage colleagues Biplab Bandopadhyay and Suman Mukhopadhyay had sent a letter to Anandabazar Patrika, describing Mitra’s reaction as “intolerant”.

“Manish Mitra had made several nasty remarks about my Macbeth and Gautam Haldar’s Sojon Badiyar Ghaat. Have we ever stopped the plays or threatened him?” asked Sen.

Mitra told Metro that he had halted the shows out of “disgust” and sorrow that one-time friends Kaushik and Suman took the side of someone who had called him a “rapist” and “deshodrohi”.

“The whole thing is politically motivated. Tapas Chatterjee, who plays Othello, has been threatened by CPM cadres. He finds it difficult to return home and is staying with me,” said Manish.

Actors stripping in Shakespearean productions like King Lear is history in the West. The nudity here, according to Manish, is necessary to bring out the physicality of the man-woman conflict.

About the play being stopped, Nandikar’s Sengupta said: “He is hurt…. Everyone has a right to his/her decisions… so has the audience. If the play returns I will see it.” Theatre veteran Arun Mukhopadhyay, who has seen the play, said: “No comments. The whole business is too murky, I would like to stay out of it.”