Exactly a year after Punnapra-based theatre group Neythal Nataka Sangham staged its Kakkukali at Veloor in Thirssur, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), on Saturday, 11 March, demanded a ban on the play.
The demand was raised 37 years after the Church in Kerala launched a massive protest against another play, Christhuvinte Aaram Thirumurivu (The Sixth Holy Wound of Jesus Christ).
Based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, that play triggered outrage in the Christian community over the number of holy wounds.
The uprising forced the state government to ban the play directed by PM Antony, in 1986. Two years later, acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese released The Last Temptation of Christ, the movie adaptation of the Greek writer’s controversial work.
Now, Kakkukali (a rural version of hopscotch), a theatrical version of Francis Noronha’s short story by the same title, has again rubbed the Christian community the wrong way.
Play a disgrace to Kerala’s culture, says KCBC
The play, which was staged first on 11 March, 2022, was later performed14 times at different venues in the state.
In a statement, the KCBC termed the play “a disgrace to the culture of Kerala” and said the “condemnable” play contained “derogatory content”.
Incidentally, reports said the play was produced with the financial support of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi.
The KCBC statement also questioned the Kerala government for including the play in the International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) in February this year. The KCBC criticised Left-leaning organisations for giving it further publicity.
“It is objectionable to blindly promote a play which makes distorted and untrue additions to the imagination of a storyteller. The play reiterates the baseless propaganda which is being spread against Catholic monasticism,” the KCBC said in its statement.
“The cultural community must be prepared to recognise this fact and respond and discourage such distorted creations. The government should immediately take necessary steps to ban the exhibition of this play,” it added.
The Thrissur Archdiocese has, meanwhile, called for a demonstration against the play on Sunday, 12 March, followed by a march to the district collectorate on Monday.
Kakkukali: The story of Natali
Noronha’s stories reflected life in coastal Kerala. KB Ajayakumar wrote the script for Kakkukali, and it is directed by Job Madathil.
“A poverty-stricken mother in the 1980s in coastal Kerala makes up her mind to give away her daughter, Natali, to a convent to ensure at least her daily meals. The play begins in the context when the sisters come to the house while Natali was playing Kakkukali with Lekshmi in the front yard,” read the plot of the play.
The play received mixed responses when it was staged at the ITFoK as several theatre lovers enjoyed the presentation of the play. A few others criticised the festival curators for including a play that they considered “communist propaganda” in a theatre festival funded by the Left-ruled state government.
The columns drawn on the ground in Kakkukali represent rules and restrictions imposed by the powerful and the blindfolded player is bound to go by the rules. Natalia rebels in the convent and, eventually, abandons her habit and returns home.
Her mother wholeheartedly welcomes her, who is then seen playing Kakkukali like a free spirit.
Director seeks talks with KCBC
“We have staged Kakkukali at venues where Christians were the majority and received appreciation, so the believers have not objected to it so far,” director Madathil told South First.
“We don’t know why the KCBC suddenly has these concerns over a play which has been being staged in Kerala for the past one year,” he wondered.
He opined that a play should ideally be seen as an art form and the KCBC official should be ready for dialogue. Madathil requested the KCBC office-bearers to watch the play in full instead of criticising it after seeing certain portions of video footage.
“The play is not against the Church. There are positive characters who play the role of nuns. Similarly, we have portrayed Jesus Christ and the Bible very positively, that too from a believer’s point of view. These aspects are not being discussed,” he added.
When asked about the criticism of the play as communist propaganda Madathil said: “The play is premised on the 1980s and it reflects the lives of the downtrodden of that time. We have not intended any propaganda.”
Regarding depicting a lesbian relationship between two nuns, Madathil said sexuality should be seen positively and they have not portrayed it negatively.
“The convent itself is a symbolic representation in the play. For women, it can be the family or any institution,” he said.
Madathil added that KCBC officials have not contacted him. He said he and his team are disappointed with the controversy and are looking forward to a dialogue.
Immature and distortion of truth: KCBC
South First spoke to KCBC’s deputy secretary general Fr Jacob G Palackappilly who said a ban was sought since the play disgraced the Kerala culture.
“The nuns are a community who has been working for the welfare of the country. Do they ever quarrel with anyone? Then why are they ridiculed in front of society?” Fr Palackappilly asked.
He felt the play deviated from the original text of the short story.
“How can we not oppose a product of art which is an immature and distorted version of the truth? Will these people ever dare to ridicule the saints or monasteries of other religions? Do they have the guts to do that? They are doing this because they are sure that the Christian community will not protest against it,” Fr Palackappilly said.
He told South First that he has not seen the play, but had seen its video clips, shot by people who had watched it.
“There is no need for a dialogue with makers of such creations,” he added.