Elangovan



Elangovan (b. 1957, Singapore–) is a bilingual poet and playwright known for exploring controversial themes and the grimmer aspects of society. He was a teacher, arts administrator, freelance journalist, screenwriter, literary editor and the artistic director of theatre company Agni Kootthu (Tamil for “Theatre of Fire”).1

Early life and education
Elangovan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre directing from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 1996 and went on to pursue a master’s in theatre directing from Middlesex University in England. In 1995, he received training in forum theatre from Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal.2


Literary career
Poetry and fiction
Elangovan has been called the pioneer of modern Tamil poetry and experimental Tamil theatre in Singapore. He was one of the first poets in Singapore to use the puthukkavithai (free verse) style.3

Elangovan has published three books of poetry: Vizhichannalkalin Pinnalirunthu (1979),4 Mouna Vatham (1984) and Transcreations (1988).5 His poems in Tamil and English (self-translated) have appeared in anthologies such as The Poetry of Singapore (1985),6 Singapore: Places, Poems, Paintings (1993)7 and Journeys: Words, Home and Nation (1995).8

He was the literary editor of Singa, a local literary and arts journal, as well as a co-editor and translator for The Fiction of Singapore (1990)9 and Words for the 25th: Readings by Singapore Writers.10

In 1997, Elangovan was awarded the SEA (Southeast Asia) Write Award in Bangkok, Thailand, for his bilingual contributions to literature and theatre in Singapore.11 He has also represented Singapore in a number of events such as the 2nd Asian Poetry Festival in Bangladesh in 1989; the 3rd and 4th Southeast Asian Writers’ Conferences in Singapore and the Philippines in 1987 and 1990 respectively; the 3rd World Poetry Reading in Malaysia in 1990; and the 1st ASEAN Writers’ Conference/Workshop in Malaysia in 1992.12

Theatre
Elangovan has attracted the most attention for his stage works. His plays are known to be “controversial, irreverent and provocative”, and he believes that they are controversial because they tell the truth.13

His first collection of plays, Dogs and Other Plays,14 was published in 1996. Following this were Talaq (Divorce; 1999),15 Buang Suay and Other Plays (2001),16 Flush (2002),17 Mines (2003),18 Ooodaadi (Medium; (2003),19 O$P$ (2004),20 1915 (2005),21 Smegma (2006),22 P (2007)23 and I, Bose (2009).24

The plays Flush, Oodaadi and 1915 received the Singapore Internationale Award from the Singapore International Foundation in 2002, 2003 and 2005 respectively.25 Besides Singapore, Elangovan’s plays have also been staged in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, South Africa and India.26

In 2000, Elangovan’s play Talaq was thrust into the media spotlight when the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) denied it a performance licence for its English and Malay performances on the grounds that it might offend religious sensibilities.27 The monologue drama, which premiered in 1998 in Tamil, examines the issue of marital violence and rape in the Indian Muslim community based on real-life experiences.28

Concerns were raised over the portrayal of the Islamic faith, which led to some Indian Muslim groups protesting against the staging of Talaq.29 Subsequently, Elangovan and Talaq lead actress Nargis Banu reported death threats made against them, and Agni Kootthu president S. Thenmoli was arrested and warned for criminal trespass after an unauthorised rehearsal of the play.30 After the ban of Talaq,31 Elangovan resigned from the National Arts Council, where he had been an arts administrator from 1987 to 2000. He then taught theatre at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts and later worked the Centre for the Arts at the National University of Singapore, as an associate in the literary arts team.32

His 2006 work, Smegma, a play on sexual exploitation of the disadvantaged, had its arts entertainment license withdrawn by the Media Development Authority.33 That same year, a performance of P passed the censors after Elangovan agreed to change references in the script to Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.34

Elangovan has written and directed numerous plays for Agni Kootthu in Singapore, and for other companies overseas. He was the dramaturg and assistant director of the Black Swan Theatre Company’s production, The Floating World, which was performed at the Festival of Perth in Australia in 1995.35 Two years later, he also wrote and directed Sangre (Blood) in Spain.36

Elangovan also wrote the story and screenplay for the drama series Soor (High) based on drug abuse cases in Singapore. The series was televised over 13 weeks in 2003 on the Television Corporation of Singapore’s Vasantham Central.37

Awards
1997: SEA Write Award
2002: Singapore Internationale Award
2003: Singapore Internationale Award
2005: Singapore Internationale Award

Works
Poetry
1979: Vizhichannalkalin Pinnalirunthu
1984: Mouna Vatham
1988: Transcreations

Selected plays
1996: Dogs and Other Plays
1999: Talaq (Divorce)
2001: Buang Suay and Other Plays
2002: Flush
2003: Mines
2003: Ooodaadi (Medium)
2004: O$P$
2005: 1915
2006: Smegma
2007: P
2009: I, Bose



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 173. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Santhanam, K. (2003, May 4). Maverick with a mission. The Hindu. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Thinnai. (2016). Elangovan. Retrieved 2016, May 6 from Thinnai website: http://puthu.thinnai.com/?p=21957
2. Nair, P. (1997, November 14). Playwright derides ‘sheep mentality’. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 173, 534. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
4. Ka. Iḷaṅkōvan̲. (1979). Vil̲iccan̲n̲alkaḷin̲ pin̲n̲āliruntu. Civakaṅkai: Akaram. (Call no.: RSING S894.8111 ILA)
5. National University of Singapore. (n.d.). Creative work database: Elangovan. Retrieved 2016, August 5 from Singapore Research Nexus, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, National University of Singapore website: http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/testsite/creative-works/?search=Elangovan&search_in=author
6. Thumboo, E., et al. (Eds.). (1985). The poetry of Singapore. Singapore: [s.n.]. (Call no.: S821 POE)
7. Koh, B. S. (Ed.). (1993). Singapore: Places, poems, paintings. Singapore: Art and Artist Speak. (Call no.: RSING q700.95957 SIN)
8. Thumboo, E., et al. (Eds.). (1995). Journeys: Words, home and nation: Anthology of Singapore poetry (1984–1995). Singapore: UniPress. (Call no.: RSING S821 JOU)
9. Thumboo, E., et al. (Eds.). (1990). The fiction of Singapore. Singapore: [s.n.]. (Call no.: RSING S823.008 FIC)
10. Thumboo, E., et al. (Eds.). (1990). Words for the 25th: Readings by Singapore writers. Singapore: UniPress. (Call no.: RSING S820 WOR); Nair, P. (1997, November 14). Playwright derides ‘sheep mentality’. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 173. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); National Book Development Council. (n.d.). S.E.A. Write Award. Retrieved 2016, August 5 from
http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/s.e.a-write-award
12. Nair, P. (1997, November 14). Playwright derides ‘sheep mentality’. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Thinnai. (n.d.). Elangovan. Retrieved May 6, 2016, from Thinnai website: http://puthu.thinnai.com/?p=21957
13. Elangovan. (2006). Smegma. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA); Yip, M. (2003, July 3). When ‘truth’ invites controversy. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Elangovan. (1996). Dogs and other plays. Australia?: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
15. Elangovan. (1999). Talaq [Divorce]. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S894.8112 ELA)
16. Elangovan. (2001). Buang suay and other plays. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
17. Elangovan. (2002). Flush. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
18. Elangovan. (2003). Mines. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
19. Elangovan. (2003). Oodaadi: (medium). Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
20. Elangovan. (2004). O$P$. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
21. Elangovan. (2005). 1915. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
22. Loh, C. K., & Ashraf Safdar. (2006, August 5). Early curtains for provocative play. Today, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Elangovan. (2007). P. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
24. Elangovan. (2009). I, Bose. Singapore: Elangovan. (Call no.: RSING S822 ELA)
25. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 173. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
26. Santhanam, K. (2003, May 4). Maverick with a mission. The Hindu. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Thinnai. (2016). Elangovan. Retrieved 2016, May 6 from Thinnai website: http://puthu.thinnai.com/?p=21957
27. Liew, K. K. (2000). Between Sensationalism and Information: Talaq and the Media. Focas: Forum on Contemporary Arts and Society, 1, 173–180. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 F); Srilal, M. (2000, November 7). Controversial play tests artistic freedom. Inter Press Service. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
28. Teo, P. L. (2000, October 27). No go for touchy play. The Straits Times, p. 3; Teo, W. (2000, October 20). Her old pain and new row. The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Teo, P. L. (2000, October 27). No go for touchy play. The Straits Times, p. 3; Muis refers issue to Govt. (1999, March 12). The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Chronology of events. (2000, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 182. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Liew, K. K. (2000). Between Sensationalism and Information: Talaq and the Media. Focas: Forum on Contemporary Arts and Society, 1, 173–180. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 F)
32. Chew, D. (2004, August 2). Dogged by controversy. Today, p. 24; Yong, S. C. (2002, December 21). The risk-taker. Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Tan, T. (2008, August 1). Playwright back with satirical play. The Straits Times, p. 76. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Ashraf Safdar. (2006, March 24). Elangovan play gets MDA approval. Today, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Perera, A. (1995). Singaporeans make an impact on drama in Western Australia. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Nair, P. (1997, November 14). Playwright derides ‘sheep mentality’. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Thinnai. (2016). Elangovan. Retrieved 2016, May 6 from Thinnai website: http://puthu.thinnai.com/?p=21957



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Writers
Language and literature>>Literatures>>English literatures>>English poetry
Poets--Singapore--Biography
Bilingual authors--Singapore--Biography
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Language and literature>>Literatures>>Indic and Dravidian literatures>>Tamil literature
Elangovan, 1957-
Male dramatists--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors