CUT – The world through the eyes of a visionary theater activist
Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is one of the most critically acclaimed writers of modern times. Bold, unapologetic, blatant, cut-throat yet beautiful, sensitive and sensual, her writings are a deep reflection of the most sensitive issues in the society today, which we do not want to address.
In this current day and time, when no one in the country wants to question policies, no one wants to challenge age-old traditions, no one wants to discuss or even talk about issues which are persistently making the country hollow from within, Sreemoyee is a ray of hope, bringing these issues to the forefront.
Often described or labelled as a ‘rebel’ for her choice of topics, her books, like “Sita’s Curse”, talks about the unfulfilled sexual desires of an Indian middle-class woman, something no one really bothers about in our society, has garnered a lot of appreciation.
Her latest book “CUT”, which is set to release on the 3rd of February in Bengaluru, is a posthumous look at the life and works of a visionary theatre artist in the current world of government censure of artistic freedom and integrity.
In an exclusive one-on-one interview with BananiVissta, Sreemoyee talked to us more about her life goals, what she thinks about the current state and situation of the country, what she thinks about the younger generations and about what keeps her going in her day to day life. Let’s look:
BV: You started your career as a journalist. What made you quit journalism when you were holding the portfolio of an editor and turn to writing?
Sreemoyee: I never joined journalism because of my love for power. I wanted to get into journalism because I wanted to be an agent of change. I always thought that through journalism, one can bring about a positive change in society by highlighting various issues and working on them.
However, with the passage of time, I realized, that the ideal idea of journalism which I had, does not exist and there is not much a contribution that can be made to bring about a change in the society. The whole institution of journalism had been affected by a lot of external factors and forces. Although I held the position of an editor just at the age of 24, I was not able to connect with my job and my idea of journalism. Also, it was a lot more commercialized than I thought it would be. That is where I moved on to a PR job and then eventually authoring came in. I thought that I can connect more with people through this than I could through journalism. This is when my first book “Faraway Music” became a reality and then it just continued.
BV: You have always written about sensitive and sensual topics which the society at large does not want to talk about. For example, ‘Sita’s Curse’- which talks about the unfulfilled sexual desires of a middle-class woman. Is there any particular reason why you choose such topics?
Sreemoyee: There is no particular reason why I choose these topics. Asking a writer, the question why you chose such a topic, or why did you write this book is like asking a CEO of the company why you run this company like the way you run it. Stories are born when they must be born, and the basic job of a writer is to stay true and honest to the topic that he/she is writing about. I am not the kind of a person who follows the herd. Just because one book of the erotic genre which I wrote worked well, I wouldn’t write my next ten books on the same lines.
I hate the idea of being boxed or branded as a writer of any particular genre. As a matter of fact, I don’t like to think of myself as a writer, I call myself an “independent woman artist”. I am a creative person and I like doing a lot of things, like writing books, poetry etc. So, when such a person is confined in a box and given a label, it is not justified.
BV: Your upcoming book ‘CUT’ talks about the limitations and the boundaries which have been drawn around the basic constitutional right of ‘freedom of expression’. What inspired you to write on such a topic?
Sreemoyee: The inception of CUT was back in the year 2014 or 2015. The idea struck me when a famous Marathi theater artist was found dead in the ladies’ compartment of a train, and there was all kind of speculations which were going around. People started to ask questions like why he’s in the ladies’ compartment, what kind of person he must have been. Some said that he was a drunkard, some even labelled him as a terrorist, however, no one talked about his huge contribution to Marathi theater.
In the long run, people who stuck to the mainstream theater, eventually found it difficult to survive because of change in people’s preferences, sponsors’ preferences, the Bollywood influence etc. The idea of content-driven performances eventually was fading.
CUT is a story of 5 primary characters. Through CUT, I want to tell everyone, if a country is divided around the narrow lines of gender, religion etc. then we are heading towards a revolution which will be right at our doorsteps which will be fought by the marginalized people like you and me. In today’s system, the artist, the farmer, and every other creative person is painted with the same brush. Everyone gets labelled as a rebel, as a traitor or as something at some point in life.
Interestingly, although many publishers liked the idea behind the book, very few expressed the interest to publish it.
BV: Given the current situation and scenario in the country, how do you think people would react to the book? Do you think people will understand the underlying concept or the thought process with which the book has been written?
Sreemoyee: As I said earlier, it is not the job of an artist to curtail his / her thoughts based on what the audience might like or might be able to digest. It used to happen back in the day, when every other content that was produced, was done keeping its selling ability in mind. But all thanks to digital media and the digital space today, there are more artists coming forward with the bolder and content-driven matter.
Having said so, I personally think, India as a country and Indians have always been open to experiments. We as a country have always been open to new and different types of work. But then again, a writer’s main task is, to be honest, and true to the content he/she is writing about, without thinking about its acceptance by the audience.
BV: The Apex court of India (SC) recently asked the authorities to be extremely slow and cautious in passing any kind of restraint or stopping a creative person from expressing his/her creativity through a book, drama, theater or any other form. What are your thoughts on this?
Sreemoyee: The Supreme Court of India have been passing some landmark judgements in the recent past. It is absolutely a wonderful decision and I welcome that. With the way things are working now, I am waiting for the day when they will criminalize issues like marital rape. I think legislation and governance must work for hand in hand and that is when we would have more of these landmark judgements.
I am very hopeful that we would be able to witness more positive changes in the country.
BV: You have always been known to be a no-nonsense writer. Do you think in this process of writing about social issues (which usually is a stigma in the society), you have been labelled as a rebel? If yes, what is your take on that?
Sreemoyee: I love being a rebel and have always been one. I think I am a rebel romantic. Had I not been a rebel, I wouldn’t have been able to script the course of my own life. You must break down some walls and burn some bridges for your voice to be heard. I wear and flaunt the “Rebel” badge always with pride.
Of course, I have always had the support of my family throughout, who have let me be what I am or the way I am without putting me through the general course of confirmation which every lady is expected to go through.
BV: A larger part of your audience is the younger generation of the country, who also seems to get politically influenced very easily. What is your message for them (especially with reference to the current situation of restraint on freedom of expression)?
Sreemoyee: The younger generation of the country gives me a lot of hope. I think there is a lot of potential they carry. My book CUT was recently adapted into a play, at the National School of Drama. There I saw a lot of young talent perform so wonderfully well. They were all talented people from some of the remotest places in the country.
I feel if you are talented, hardworking and have originality you are bound to be successful. This is the generation of tomorrow.
BV: You have secured an acclaimed position among the young readers of the country. What is your source of motivation?
Sreemoyee: I am a practicing Buddhist. I do a lot of work for the under privileged, lesser fortunate people, rehabilitating refugees, orphaned children by mobilizing funds for their betterment and by trying to create more educational opportunities.
I would like to dedicate my life in these lines, serving people in the long run. This not only keeps me grounded but also gives me the courage to fight my battles and overcome any obstacles and roadblocks.
BV: Having already tapped upon some of the most sensitive issues in the society today, what do we get to experience next? Are you working on something already? What is your next project/book about?
Sreemoyee: I have just completed a fiction novel, which is a generational family saga of a Bengali family who migrated to Kolkata during the India-Bangladesh partition. Set against the backdrop old Kolkata and how the appearance of the city has completely changed with the passage of time, it is an emotional tale of how the meaning of identity and belonging changes from generation to generation. This book is very close to my heart.
I have also signed up for my memoirs which is named “Bad Blood”. I plan to write it by the end of this year.
We feel it’s a blessing that we have writers like Sreemoyee leading the bandwagon of change. And we are equally excited about her new upcoming novels. Way to go Sreemoyee….!!