NSD postpones 'anti-RSS' Tamas performance after right-wing outrage

Former BJP parliamentarian Balbir Punj kicked off a campaign against the famous novel and its "vampanthi (leftist)" author Bhisham Sahani

Promotional image from an adaptation of Tamas for television (photo courtesy IMDb)
Promotional image from an adaptation of Tamas for television (photo courtesy IMDb)

NH Political Bureau

The National School of Drama (NSD) — an autonomous theatre training institute under the Union ministry of culture — has ‘postponed’ performance of play based on the iconic Hindi novel Tamas after BJP's Bajbir Punj, a former MP, kicked off a campaign against the play, calling it 'anti-RSS'.

Written by Bhisham Sahni, one of the most influential writers in Hindi, Tamas deals with communal politics and its impact on the common man. Set in the Partition era, the novel was later adapted into a TV series by Govind Nihalani, featuring Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor and Amreesh Puri.

According to media reports, right-wing ideologue Balbir Punj, who was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Bharatiya Janata Party, started a campaign against the NSD's Tamas performance on a chat group. His stance was later picked up and amplified by others on social media, forcing the NSD to ‘postpone’ the performance.

Calling Sahni a vampanthi (leftist) in the group, Punj said that Tamas had directly or indirectly held the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh responsible for communal violence during Partition, which is ‘factually wrong’.

Participants in the campaign against the Tamas performance tagged Union ministers Arjun Ram Meghwal and Meenakshi Lekhi, who were slated to appear as special guests for the opening show on 14 August.

Interestingly, the NSD chose to keep mum over the campaign against the Tamas performance.

When asked, the head of the NSD Repertory, Rajesh Singh, who was supervising the production, said that the performance has been postponed to a later date, which has not yet been fixed.

“It was postponed for some internal reason and the next dates will now be only after the new session of the Repertory starts,” he was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

Singh said that the Repertory intended to perform Tamas to highlight the horrors of Partition and the subsequent fallout in society, as per Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to mark 14 August as a remembrance day.

The NSD Repertory was supposed to stage the play at the Abhimanch Auditorium from August 14 to 20. Two days before the show opened, however, the NSD issued a statement on social media announcing the postponement.

When asked whether outrage on social media was a reason, as per the Hindu report, Singh said, “I do not know that was the reason.”

We tried to reach out to the NSD director Ramesh Chandra Gaur’s office, seeking his comment, but he was unavailable.

We also tried to talk to a well-known theatre personality, seeking his comment on the issue; but he refused, saying the matter is between the NSD and the right-wing people. "I do not have any stake in this controversy," he said.

People associated with the production of the show said they only hoped to be able to perform it as they had rehearsed it extensively.

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