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Nama Singh

Behzti Play Honored

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Controversial play honored

Sikh playwright's protested work wins the Blackburn Prize


Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, a London-born Sikh of Indian parentage, has won this year's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her controversial play Behzti (Dishonour) — whose world-premiere run at England's Birmingham Repertory Theatre was cut short in December after violent protests by members of the Sikh community.


A man exits England's Birmingham Repertory Theatre in December after the play Behzti, today named the winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, was canceled due to protests by Sikhs.

Awarded annually for an outstanding new English-language play by a woman, the Houston-based prize was presented to Bhatti at a private reception Monday night in London. The prize carries a cash award of $10,000.

Behzti already had been chosen one of the 12 finalists for this year's prize before the premiere production opened. The play depicts a woman who serves as caretaker for her elderly, invalid (and foul-mouthed) mother. When the two visit a Sikh temple, secrets of the family's past are revealed, leading to scenes of violence and rape instigated by a corrupt temple official.

The play infuriated many in the Sikh community. A week after the opening, several hundred Sikhs stormed the theater, damaged the building and fought with police. Fearing further violence and unable to protect the staff, cast and play goers, the theater closed the production the following day. Bhatti, unable to return to her home because of threats against her, went into hiding.

The incident was one of several recent events demonstrating the growing tension between freedom of artistic expression and sensitivity to the diverse religious beliefs of Europe's increasingly fragmented population.

Following the production's cancellation, Bhatti, 36, issued a statement published in the Guardian of London:

"Unfortunately the contents of Behzti seem to have been taken out of context by many. Surely it is only by reading or seeing the whole thing that anyone can usefully comment on the play's merits and flaws. I certainly did not write Behzti to offend. ...

"Religion and art have collided for centuries and will carry on doing battle long after my play and I are forgotten."

Matt Wolf, Variety's London theater critic and one of this year's six Blackburn Prize judges, encapsulated the group's unanimous appreciation for the play: "Ms. Bhatti writes with courage, intelligence and skill about family dynamics within a larger, ceaselessly fascinating social and cultural context."

The judges also awarded two special commendations of $2,000 each: to Iraqi-American playwright Heather Raffo for Nine Parts of Desire, a set of monologues depicting Iraqi and American women; and to British playwright Chloe Moss for How Love Is Spelt, a character study of a self-deceiving young woman.

The other nine finalists (each receiving $1,000) were: Leslie Ayvazian (United States) for Rosemary and I; Rebecca Gilman (U.S.) for Sweetest Swing in Baseball; Joanna McClelland Glass (Canada) for Trying; Bryony Lavery (United Kingdom) for Last Easter; Rebecca Lenkiewicz (U.K.) for The Night Season; Melanie Marnich (U.S.) for Cradle of Man; Mia McCullough (U.S.) for Since Africa; Katherine Thomson (Australia) for Harbour; and Patrica Wettig (U.S.) for My Andy.

Each year, theater professionals throughout the English-speaking world submit new scripts for consideration. Now in its 27th year, the Blackburn Prize draws entries chiefly from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland. The plays need not have been produced, but any first production must have taken place within the past 12 months. This year's 12 finalists were chosen from more than 80 entries.

This year's other judges were actress Stockard Channing; Sara Garonzik, producing artistic director, Philadelphia Theatre Company; Paulette Randall, artistic director of London's Talawa Theatre Company; actor Corin Redgrave; and Carole Woddis, London theater journalist.

Created to encourage women playwrights and call attention to their best work, the Blackburn Prize reflects the values of Houston-born actress and writer Susan Smith Blackburn, who lived her final 15 years in London and died in 1977. The prize's co-directors are Mimi Kilgore (Blackburn's sister), of Houston and New York, and William Blackburn (her husband), of London.

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LOL, you gotto admire these arty boys for their unity dnt u! Maybe they should come live in the 'real' world for a few weeks/months! Realise that evert action does have a reaction!!

And man u just have no choice but to just LOVE the media, hundreds of sikhs attacked the theatre did they?? LOL if they had attacked the theatre then there would be nothing but rubble today!! im sure hundreds of people could have done more damage then 2 broken windows!

just ridiculous, shameful face of the 'free press' i.e. write what rubbish you like, nobody going to oppose you!!

Some singhs went to a public discussion on freedom of speech and religion etc following the play at bham uni held by various scholars and professors. one of the intresting points raised from there was that this was an 'unfair playing ground' as the theatre and press are free to publish and say what they like with an audience ready to listen to them. while the sikhs have NO way of getting their view across being such a small community. who is going to listen to the unknown sikhs when you have the mighty protectors of freedom of expression ie the british arts community speaking against them!

also another pont was that, given the last 20 -2 yrs of sikh history and persecution the sikhs have suffered, they are still vulnerable and sensitive, since many have lived and experienced hardships caused by the indian state. this to them was another attack on their faith, and it is within this context that the behzti play and the protests should be considered. fair point i believe.

another thing that i find intresting is that these drama productions which are meant to give an insight into the life of' are generally just an xcuse for people who dnt live in those worlds to see what the world is meant to be like! im afraid reality is prob much harsher or on the other hand not as glamourous or intresting as these playrights will portray.

how many black youth from the ghetto will actually watch a black ghtto drama, how many gurdwara going sikhs will actually watch plays such as this? very vry very few. this is and always has been entertainment for the rich and upperclass/educated etc. they getting upset because their boundries which they draw around them got squashed!! they upset because the people they usually gawp at on stage turned up outside and said HELLOOOO lol and they crapped it!

anyway forget her and her stupid prize lol! she full of so much crap its too funny!! still waiting for sumone to write a play showing the hypocrisy of the arts!

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