Stories in a song

In Goa, an official contest to sing BJP government’s praises meets chorus of ire

Theatre folk and the Opposition criticises competition that offers large prizes for tunes that eulogise the administration's achievements.

Over the past four years, Goa’s Bharatiya Janata Party government has found itself in several face-offs with the influential folk theatre community that keeps alive a century-old performance tradition known as tiatr.

The most recent controversy erupted last week, when Goa’s Information and Publicity Department announced a competition, urging tiatrists to compose original songs eulogising the government.

An advertisement issued on Thursday announced a Konkani Kantaram Utsav (or Konkani Song Festival) on March 8, specifying that the compositions must be “based on achievements of the present government and emphasising the schemes implemented for the welfare of the state in order to bring awareness among the people”. Cash prizes amounting to Rs 50,000 are up for grabs.

The event is being hosted by the Information and Publicity Department in collaboration with the government-funded Tiatr Academy of Goa.

The Opposition – including the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party – was quick to criticise the BJP. The Congress, specifically, accused the government of misusing the official machinery ahead of next year’s elections. Many tiatirsts also expressed their unhappiness with the conditions of the competition. “The intentions are not good,” said singer and actor Sharon Mazarello. “There are many competitions, but they don’t give you a topic to sing on.”

Sensing trouble, the government issued a note clarifying that the mandate of the Information and Publicity Department was to spread awareness about official schemes using a range of media. Employing popular songs is a legitimate method, it said, along with printed booklets, broadcasts and advertisements.

But not everyone is buying that line. Well-known tiatr artist and former Goa Assembly speaker Tomazinho Cardozo told Scroll.in that since the rules for the competition specified that adverse remarks could not be made against the government during the competition, the BJP was probably attempting to create a bank of Konkani songs favourable to it.

Sharp political commentary

Kantaram (or songs) are a vital part of the hugely popular form of tiatr. The vaudeville-like stage shows that could feature 16 kantaram about daily life, love, social and political issues that spice up the time between set changes. Many kantaram are sharply political, offering incisive comments on public life and local issues. As anyone who has followed a Goan election well knows, Konkani kantarim (or songs) are often deployed during campaigns to add an edge to a candidate's appeal.

But as Cardozo points out, cantarists who sing about social and political issues tend to be critical of the government. Though the criticism has stung several politicians cutting across party lines in the past, it has more broadly singed the government.

Over the past four years of BJP rule, kantars and tiatrs have ridiculed the government on several issues, including its recent ruling that the coconut palm isn't really a tree. Last year, a prominent political singer released a CD titled No More Ullu Banawing (Don’t Make Fools of Us Anymore).

It isn't surprising that some MLAs and other right-wing groups that had been feeling the heat brought pressure on the government last year to consider censoring tiatrs. But the government's suggestion that groups would have to present their scripts to a board resulted in an avalanche of protests from Konkani artists, their fans, and the Opposition ensued when the Goa government had, last year. The proposal was eventually dropped but not before it further soured the relationship between artists, singers and the government.

As a result, while many tiatrists have expressed their opposition to the contest, the immensely popular actor Miguel Jacob Fernandes, who goes by the stage name of Prince Jacob, feels differently. He said that the competition could help bridge the gap between the tiatrists and the government.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.