A novel that ad­dresses the is­sues of artis­tic free­dom and pub­lic mem­ory

The Sunday Guardian - - BOOKBEAT - COR­RE­SPON­DENT

After the suc­cess of her last work, Sta­tus Sin­gle, India’s first non-fic­tion novel on 74 mil­lion sin­gle ur­ban women from all across India, best­selling au­thor Sreemoyee Piu Kundu launched her new novel, ti­tled Cut: The Life and Death of a The­atre Ac­tivist on 4 Jan­uary at The Park Kolkata. Told in dis­parate voices, Cut presents a post­hu­mous look at the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life of a vi­sion­ary artist, Amitabh Ku­lashresh­tra—who is in­tense, brood­ing, com­plex, pas­sion­ate, trou­bled, stub­born, pa­triot, pa­tri­arch, pariah—and the price he, but equally those near to him paid, to get his voice heard. It de­scribes a man whose com­mit­ment to artis­tic in­tegrity and art as a plat­form for so­cial re­form, of­ten took prece­dence over those he loved. In today’s world of gov­ern­ment cen­sure and ruth­less sti­fling of any who ques­tion their ways, Cut is also a deeply per­ti­nent and timely book. The book was launched by ac­claimed film­maker Sri­jit Mukherji, who was also in con­ver­sa­tion with the au­thor in the pres­ence of per­form­ing artist Su­joy Prasad Chat­ter­jee, In­dian ac­tor Ekavali Khanna and the­atre and film ac­tor So­hini Sengupta, who pre­sented drama­tised read­ings from the book.

Re­gard­ing the gen­e­sis of the book, Kundu says, “The idea of Cut first orig­i­nated when I lived in Mumbai and I read a very dis­turb­ing ar­ti­cle on an age­ing Marathi the­atre thes­pian who was found dead on a lo­cal train, he was drunk and had mis­tak­enly got up on to the ladies coach. His body lay dead for hours in a gov­ern­ment hospi­tal morgue, un­claimed for days. How the lo­cal pa­pers were full of news about this in­ci­dent, throw­ing up muck on his char­ac­ter, his in­ten­tions in board­ing a ladies com­part­ment, and how, his achieve­ments in the world of the­atre were con­ve­niently for­got­ten. Cut in many ways also ex­am­ines the par­ody of pub­lic mem­ory, and how artists are con­ve­niently for­got­ten.” In­ter­est­ingly, Cut has been cho­sen this year as the fi­nal year performance text at the National School of Drama that will adapt the novel into a the­atri­cal stage ver­sion to be per­formed as a se­ries of shows, start­ing 24 Jan­uary. It will be di­rected by ac­claimed the­atre di­rec­tor Ab­hi­lash Pil­lai.

Known to defy stereo­types and con­ven­tions, Kundu’s lat­est fic­tion ex­am­ines the threat of sedi­tion—a charge com­mon­place on in­tel­lec­tu­als and cre­ative folks these days, and while the book traces six decades of a the­atre thes­pian’s life and times, it is also very rel­e­vant in a regime such as now where the term “ur­ban naxal” is ap­plied to any dis­rup­tor. Any­one who finds his voice strong enough to chal­lenge the preva­lent mind­set is seen as a threat. Cut is a book that ques­tions if an artist’s voice and con­scious­ness is free and un­in­hib­ited.

Elab­o­rat­ing on artis­tic free­dom, Kundu adds, “I think free­dom of ex­pres­sion is our fun­da­men­tal right as In­di­ans, guar­an­teed by the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion. I think what we are see­ing today, on so­cial me­dia for in­stance, is a churn­ing of pub­lic con­scious­ness and the right to speak up. Be it against the grue­some death of Gauri Lankesh in a so-called lib­eral city like Ban­ga­lore, or the re­cent wave of the ‘Me Too’ cam­paign, what we are wit­ness­ing is more and women men and women who speak up, sans the fear of con­se­quences.”

“I think free­dom of ex­pres­sion is our fun­da­men­tal right as In­di­ans, guar­an­teed by the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion. I think what we are see­ing today is a churn­ing of pub­lic con­scious­ness and the right to speak up.”

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