Sunil Shanbag

New Performance

Grant Period: Over four months

Sunil Shanbag has been in theatre for over three decades. He has directed and produced many plays for TheatreArpana. He is also involved in using theatre training techniques in education and training.

Sunil Shanbag received an IFA grant in November 2005 to create ‘Cotton 56, Polyester 84’, a theatre production that brought to light the suppressed history, subculture and marginalisation of the mill workers of Mumbai, whose plight has largely been ignored in the raging public debate on the future development of the mill lands. Sunil worked with writer-director Ramu Ramanathan, who wrote the script after interviewing innumerable mill workers and their families, mill land activists, trade union leaders, lawyers, media people and mill owners, and attending various committee meetings and presentations before the court. The play “covers the migration of workers from their villages to Mumbai city, the establishment of the powerful communist trade unions, their overthrow by the emerging Shiv Sena, the struggle of the strike years under the leadership of Datta Samant, and the coming together of the underworld and the political establishment to gain control and exploit the commercial potential of the vacant mill lands”.

The play opened in February 2006 against the background of two crucial Supreme Court decisions that went against the interests of the mill workers. This, and the fact that the play dealt with an unusual subject, attracted much media attention. The play had an inaugural run of eight performances at the Prithvi Theatre in February 2006. It has been seen by fairly mixed audiences ranging from upper class elites to groups of political activists, labour leaders and some workers. Sunil is also looking for opportunities to show ‘Cotton 56, Polyester 84’ for working class audiences in other states like Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.