Censorship, censorship, and censorship. Here we come to the league of banned plays.
In the beginning of 2017, the Central University of Haryana at Mahendragarh was subject to jingoistic nationalism. The University staged one of Mahasweta Devi’s most celebrated short stories, “Draupadi”. Its performance was soon met with violence, as the play was halted in media res.
“Draupadi” is about a tribal woman, Dopdi Mejhen, trying to escape the clutches of security forces, but is ultimately caught and brutally gang-raped on the command of the chief, Senayak.
For ABVP, it was a desecration of Army and security forces.
It is interesting to notice that the Goliath-seeming leaders of BJP – Narendra Modi and Amit Shah offered their condolences after learning about the Bengali writer’s death, and yet are silent when such saffronism is operating in university spaces.
Theater is a reflection of the society on stage. If you ban theater, you ban the society. You ban yourselves.
Let me list down four important, now famous plays from history that were banned due to various reasons. They might prove shocking to the present times in India too.
1. A Streetcar Named Desire
Surprised? So would everyone be. Williams’ play was banned on grounds of overt display of abuse, rape, and homosexuality. I would not like to give anything away because it is a beautiful text to grasp an understanding of the American Dream, but many critics were skeptic about its “steamy sexuality” so much that Williams was made to consider editing it, to present a less “obscene” version to its Broadway audience. One should be thankful that the playwright did not.
The theme of homosexuality can cause trouble when an adaptation of it is presented to the Indian audience. With strict laws and extremist vigilante groups masquerading on the nation’s streets, A Streetcar Named Desire will make for one controversial play in the country.
Yes, that famous Ibsen play after The Doll’s House.
Henrik Ibsen is known for his strong female characters – Nora Helmer, Hedda Gabler, Helene Alving among others. All fight against the convention set for women. The play was met with shock and accusations of indecency on grounds of incest (or was it, really?) and venereal diseases.
In England, the official censor (Lord Chamberlain) banned the play from being performed in public. The ban was dubbed “wise” and “warranted”.
Closer home, I think this will definitely make the cut to be controversial when performed in India, provided that the performance stays true to its script because, in a society where sex is a taboo, incest will be a horrific issue to bring about on stage too.
In this Oscar Wilde play, Salome dances for King Herod and demands the head of Jean de Baptiste. But what was so unusual about it? Well, it is a Biblical story. This is what enraged the deeply Christian society. It was called “vulgar”, and the playwright never saw it being performed.
I think the reason why Salome is interesting is that it reminds one of the constant censorship happening in this country in the name of depicting religious figures, gods or goddesses. The reaction of English audience to the release of Salome reminds one starkly of imbeciles reacting to MF Hussain’s paintings or vandalisation of museums in Jaipur.
4. Waiting for Godot
You’re probably thinking the same thing that I am – why Godot?
It had been banned in the former East German Republic, Czechoslovakia and Guantanamo Bay in the United States.
Renowned theater director David Leveaux explains that Beckett “punctured the over-inflated tires of false sentiment, vanity, and grandiloquence”, and hence people could connect more to it.
For the Czech, it represented the oppressive Communist regime. It was about waiting for a better future which would never arrive. Of course, after the Berlin Wall fell, posters on the street of Prague read “Godot is here”.
It appeals to where the country is today, we are actually caught in the rut of false promises, and are desperately waiting for them. Will they prove to be Godot? If someone recognizes the power Waiting for Godot holds to bring about a change, like it happened in the Communist regime, it would be one of the first plays to be banned.
Banning has been a part of history, but we all should take lessons from Lord Chamberlain. On September 26, 1968, theater censorship was abandoned in Britain.
In India theater censorship is determined by The Dramatic Performances Act implemented in 1876 by the British to check revolutionary impulses happening in the thriving creative art scene in India. In the early 1860s, theater was recognized as a potent medium to bring about a change within the colony.
Earlier, performances were private and exclusive. But soon public theater started thriving. It began by exposing the oppressive conditions of indigo plantation workers and went on to discuss numerous social problems prevalent in the country. That paradigm shift helped revolutionaries to disseminate ideas to the common illiterate masses.
The Dramatic Performances Act, 1876 was deemed obsolete by The Indian Code Compilation of Unrepealed Central Acts in 1993. It is time, that we do away with these archaic laws. Just like there is a demand for the scrapping of Section 377, this 19th-century law is defunct to shifting perspectives in freedom.
Also, extrajudicial censorship should stop.
Image Credits: Google Images
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