Despite a flurry of protests, threats of ban and jail time for the director as well as the crew, the much-talked-about play – Agnes of God, opened at the NCPA on a rainy evening on October 5th. Kaizad Kotwal, Director of the play talks to BOOM about the ban culture sweeping the country.
A meeting in the presence of Maharashtra’s Minorities Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse with Joseph Dias, secretary-general of Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), held on the morning of the October 5 was all that stood between the screening of the play Agnes of God and its ban. Eknath Khadse ruled that as Kaizad Kotwal, the Director of the play had procured a censor certificate he was free to hold his screening. To this Joseph Dias’s lawyer reportedly said, “Who is Kaizad Kotwal? …I have gotten an FIR registered against the AIB Boys, against Karan Johar and Ranveer Singh…You will be in Jail like this (flicks his wrist).”
Dias had also approached Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seeking a ban on the play as it hurts “the religious sentiments of the Catholics” and “India as a country is not ready to talk about ideas such as Immaculate Conception.”
However, the play – Agnes of God, produced by Kaizad Kotwal and his mother’s company Poor-Box Productions opened as scheduled and was received with a huge round of applause.
The journey to this evening has been anything but easy for the crew that has re-created a play which is loosely based on a true story of a nun (Sister Agnes) giving birth in a cloister and believing that it was a gift from God i.e. an immaculate conception.
Kaizad Kotwal says, “The last week before a play opens is the time that I am consumed with fine tuning everything. This time around I seem to have dropped into a Frank Kafka novel and it seems like the start of the Spanish inquisition.”
Kotwal’s invocation of the above two is because this is the first time that the Emmy award winning art director, writer and producer has had to file an FIR and appeal for protection from the state because he has been threatened with physical harm. He also received phone calls which threatened his mother who plays the role of the Mother Superior in Agnes of God.
The play is as Kotwal puts it “not about immaculate conception” as the promotions suggest but a debate about “religion and science”. Essentially, Agnes of God pits the two characters – one that is closest to religion and the other that believes in science (the psychiatrist who examines Sister Agnes) against each other to ask about the existence of God. Kotwal says, “If you pay attention to the script, it will be quite obvious that the play suggests that we have moved away from religion as our dependence on science grows but religion might have the answer to many of our problems.”
Even though the play deals with religion and spirituality, the makers of the play have had to deal with the real-life economics as a ban would have meant heavy losses for Kotwal’s production house as well as the others involved in the play. Kotwal asks, “We have reached the point where a certain individual or group can cry wolf, impose a shutdown without any consequences for them. What happens when it is proven that their claims were wrong? The threats and warnings had undertones of extortion because they kept mentioning that we will be making tons of money.”
Kaizad Kotwal gives examples of the US, where the play was originally staged and then made into a film, and UK where the play received critical acclaim to stress the point of free speech, “In a democracy, you have to accept that people have the power to talk about and believe in different ideas. This also means that even if you are offended you can protest against it peacefully or swallow it but you cannot demand that I should be silenced. Our Constitution does not give us the right to get offended by opinions that do not match with ours.”