Theatre fest takes hit, plays by two Pakistani groups cancelled

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After hockey players from Pakistan returned home from India following tensions over the killing of two Indian soldiers , two Pakistani theatre groups felt the diplomatic ripples on Thursday.

Fearing trouble, the National School of Drama, which organises the annual theatre festival Bharat Rang Mahotsav (BRM), cancelled shows by NAPA Repertory Theatre and Ajoka Theatre. Both were due to stage plays on Saadat Hasan Manto, who chronicled the horrors of Partition and supported a tolerant society.

The curtains came down on NAPA a few hours before it was to stage Mantorama, directed by Sunil Shankar, at Kamani auditorium Thursday.

"The Ministry of Culture was apprehensive that disruptive elements might not allow the play to proceed smoothly. They do not want the audience to be hurt or injured and have decided to withdraw the two shows," said NSD chairperson Amal Allana.

BRM is considered Asia's largest theatre festival and features a selection of Indian and foreign productions. Pakistani troupes have always been a part of the line-up, with Ajoka having taken part more than five times.

The warning bells rang Wednesday, when Ajoka's Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh, which was to be presented at Ravindra Manch in Jaipur as part of a parallel festival, was cancelled. The play, directed by Madeeha Gauhar, revolves around events after Manto's migration to Pakistan.

"It would have been held at a public venue in Jaipur and the state government asked us not to proceed with it. Both groups have performed at previous editions of BRM but we had to keep the safety of the audience in mind," Allana said. "The groups have not been banned or censored, only (shows) cancelled."

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