Book Excerpt | Bedtime Story3 min read . Updated: 26 Feb 2015, 09:00 PM IST
An excerpt from author Kiran Nagarkar’s introduction to the first print edition of his play, which releases as a book this week
The actor and theatre director Dr Shreeram Lagoo was the first to try to stage Bedtime Story. He realized that the play was provocative and controversial material. He invited all the experimental theatre groups in Bombay for a reading in 1978 because he wanted the whole amateur theatre movement behind the play. In the meantime, the play had been sent to the censor board for certification, as the law in Maharashtra demands. It came back with seventy-eight cuts, some of them a page long, so that barely the jacket-covers were left. Eminent academics M.P. Rege, Pushpa Bhave, and a couple of others argued the case for Bedtime Story at a meeting of the censor board. Many of the excisions the board demanded were risible (e.g., drop the names of the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi), some questions did not make any sense (e.g., why are you distorting the original myths?). I must admit I was hoping that the board would have at least some members from the Marathi literary elite who would have understood the thrust of the play. But I soon realized that I was deluding myself. The board was convinced that the play was a stain on our culture and needed to be severely sanitized.
There’s an interesting footnote to the board meeting. As time elapsed and the clock ticked towards 1 p.m., the adamantine insistence on the cuts lost steam. We learnt later that many board members had travelled from other cities and all they wanted by then was the free lunch and their fees for having attended. When the director of the play finally got a letter from the board, the cuts had been reduced to twenty-four. But by then almost all the actors had withdrawn from the rehearsals because fundamentalist Hindu parties and organizations in Bombay, as it was known then, threatened the director, producer, actors and me, and even the very first rehearsal was not allowed to take place. It helped enormously that none of these vociferous guardians of our culture had read Bedtime Story.
Over the years several directors who felt strongly about the play tried to get it staged. Legal censorship in India can often be gauche, club-footed and hyper-protective of anything and everything but the freedoms of speech and expression. Extra-legal censorship in the country, however, is fearless and effective. It successfully prevented Bedtime Story from being performed for seventeen years.
Rekha Sabnis’s theatre group, Abhivyakti, and the director Achyut Deshingkar kept faith with the play through all the turbulence it generated. They finally staged it in 1995. Experimental theatres run mostly on scarce funds and large doses of enthusiasm. What killed Bedtime Story after twenty-five performances was the absence of small, affordable theatres. The actors had such fun with the firecracker dialogue and the energy within the play and the difficult questions it raised that they pooled their money and revived the play two years later, this time in Hindi, and it had a few more performances. Sometime later, Vasant Nath staged the play in Cambridge, UK, and at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.
I have not been so lucky in publishing Bedtime Story. A prestigious and established publishing house offered to bring out the first edition of the play on four different occasions. Each time, a week or two before the contract was to be signed the publisher got cold feet and withdrew the offer.
This is the first time Bedtime Story is seeing the light of day in print. In the performed version, for the sake of brevity and impact, we had excised all the modern episodes that served as a counterpoint to the reinterpreted original stories. What you are about to read now is the original version in full.
Excerpted from Bedtime Story, 97 pages, and Black Tulip (screenplay), 196 pages, ₹ 650, with permission from HarperCollins India.