ITF Not The Drama Seminar: Dramatic Performance Act
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Organised 50 years after the original Drama Seminar in 1957, the Not the Drama Seminar (NTDS) brought together theatre practitioners from all across the country to convene at Ninasam, Heggodu in March 2008. This seminar meditated on the nature of theatre in India today, on how we got to where we are. The attempt was to understand 'Indian Theatre' in all its multiplicity and diversity, bringing these several faces of Indian theatre face to face, and problemetize the issues that arise therein. These ideas were exchanged through a series of presentations and discussions over five days, and each day ended with a performance.
Siddharth: ...provisions of the act to be unconstitutional. However, the court can see that the substantive provisions of the act were reasonable and necessary. It also justified pre-censorship in theatre saying, I quote "The written word takes a long time to reach its readers but a spoken word is conveyed to the audience immediately. The written word can be confiscated before it has done much damage but the spoken word achieves its object as soon as it is uttered. The spoken word is also far more inflammable and can engender heat and excite passions in a far quicker manner and thus can become such great danger to the security of the community."
Siddharth: Censorship of theatre by the state is only one form of censorship operating today. The ban on the Marathi play 'Gashiram Kotwal' because of objections of the Marathi Brahmin community, seems the beginning of a virulent form of censorship from the Hindu right wing. In July 1998, the issue of censorship of theatre in India became a subject of world wide attention when angry protesters prevented staging of the play 'Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy' leading to the Maharashtra government banning the play following the advice of the Congress government at the centre.
Siddharth: Ironically, the most important judgement in recent times in relation to theatre censorship has been in the context of the Hindu Manch. In May 2000, the Bombay High Court in an important decision indicated that the judicial opinion in the issue of theatre censorship is changing. The court stayed an order with the police commissioner prohibiting an emoted reading of the play for private audiences in Thane in a program organised by the Hindu Manch.
Siddharth: The court in its decision read forms of literary endeavour to be the part of the right to life enshrined in the constitution and I quote again, "The right to information or the right to know is an intrinsic facet of the right to life on article 21 of the constitution. An informed citizenry must have the means to receive news and information and apart from this to receive thoughts, perceptions and ideas. Those perceptions and view points may not be in conformity with the widely held social, economical and political beliefs. A diversity of view points promotes ability on the part of society to exercise a right of choice, the right to decide and the right to form perceptions which arise the core of the functioning of a democratic system".
Siddharth: Now I just like to raise a few questions at the end of this, which hopefully come up in the discussion as well. My colleague and legal researcher Lawrence Liang has drawn upon the work of Annette Kuhn to argue that besides its prohibitive aspects, censorship can also be looked as a productive act. By productive, Liang does not mean positive or beneficial but in terms of viewing and viewing power is being formative and constitutive. Which is to say that the law for instance doesn't only describe an external reality but through the description of it also constitutes it. When the law states what the work of art is, for example, it is not defining the work of art; acts as an external reality, and always already existing idea of art, but also constituting through its definition the outer limits of what art can actually be.
Siddharth: Taking the aspect of productive powers of censorship. How then does law with its interaction with theatre create a legal theory of theatre? Can looking on censorship as a re-constitutive movement help reconfigure our understanding of power itself? Reconfiguring away from traditional sides especially institutionally prohibitive sides and focus on the diverse and diffuse ways in which it actually operates.
Siddharth: What is the mechanism of censorship that is based on the script and doesn't even take into the account the idea of performance due to the way theatre is produced? What is the feasibility of staging a fresh legal challenge to the Dramatic Performances Act? Can detailed documentation of how the Dramatic Performances Act is being implemented be used by theatre groups to mount a fresh legal challenge to it? Can a legal challenge serve as a point of mobilisation for a campaign around the issue of theatre censorship? Can such an attempt to mobilisation change the dominant narrative of pre-censorship in India, which revolves around cinema? Can theatre learn from the experience of documentary film makers whose campaign against censorship has in many ways revitalised the form of the documentary in India itself? - These are some of the questions that this project seeks to pose.
Siddharth: I would be very interested in responses, questions and discussions because I am sure people have things to say from their own experiences. And the idea that we were hoping is to initiate a collaborative effort where theater groups could actually document instances of how the act is applied, how the censorship operates from their different perspectives. And one could actually look at the possibility of a legal challenge. I would like to hear view points of what people think about that, of the possibility of a legal challenge itself and whether it is needed. These are the open questions.
Nirmala: I was just wondering what is the legal stand actually? What is the basis? Because as you said it operates differently in different cities. In a place like Karnataka like instance, we have never submitted scripts for censorship or for it to be passed by the commissioner or none of that, like what happens in Bombay. So most of the time we don't know where we stand. Is there something that should be done which we are not doing? - In which case we just plan to keep quiet and not bring it up at all? Or is it something which doesn't exist in Karnataka?
Sudan Bhatt: I would just like to add to this question. I am Sudan Bhatt. My question is - are there any states in India where in the statute book itself this act has been struck off?
Akshara: Just to add to Nirmala's point, it applies in some parts in Karnataka. In north Karnataka you have to have a license to do a play. We have had this problem when we were travelling with Triveta(?), but because Triveta(?) is fortunate enough to have sponsors everywhere they look after that problem. And actually, the law is different from the way it is executed, means - brought into effect. Therefore if the sponsor knows the SP or USP it doesn't apply. You can actually bypass the law. So that is how usually theatre groups are managing with it.
Sanjana: Is there a license to perform or is there a censorship? In Bombay we have ticket selling license, police license, performance license and a censorship. And you can only get all those if you have censorship.
Akshara: I don't know the full details but three days before they have to submit the script. One of the copies of the script will be sealed and given back to us with a signature.
Pralayan: I am Pralayan. Actually this act, is executed in a different way in Tamil Nadu. There is no specification about the censorship in Chennai but the authorities have instructed the hall owners that if there is any performance complaint or a complaint on the basis of inciting ill-effect among the masses, if the performances is going on in the hall, then the hall's license is cancelled. So now what has happened is that all the hall owners demand for an NOC from the police. If you want to book a hall for a performance, the hall owners demand of you that you have to provide an NOC for your script. So we have to go to the police commissioner and get an NOC for the script and then give that NOC to the hall owners and then do the performance. If we organise a performance in some other public places, under the banner of some institutions, we need only license for the amplifiers. No need for the approval or license for the performance. But in the halls, commercial sabhas where theatre and performances is going on, the hall owners insist on getting an NOC from the police. This is the way it is executed in Tamil Nadu.
Jehan: I wanted to simply understand the various experiences across the country. I just wondered if this is the right question? If there are any strategies which aren't quickly examined or that we have with the act in place that allows us to continue performing anyway?
For example, if the police or the executive body comes down and tries to shut us down because some other party has objected, is there anything that we have in the arsenal of existing legislation that we can use and throw back at them and say actually we have the right to perform? And to follow on to that question is, I am not very familiar with the Right To Information Act (RTI) but ... Does it apply only to government agencies or can we use the RTI to further this also? So for example an audience member who wants to see the play but they have heard it being shut down we could may be file something under that? These are the kind of questions that I have in terms of what tools we have in the existing legislation that maybe allow us to counter provision within the Dramatic Performances Act.
Adithi: In Gujarat there is this act and we have to submit the scrip to the government. The legal battle is on so that we can share all the information with you but in Gujarat now there is another censorship which has started which is anti-Modi and pro-riots. If we want to do the plays then for the performances or rehearsals we don't get any place. I think that is the worst censorship which we are facing. Where does one perform? Where does one go to, to create public opinion? We all feel so helpless in Gujarat as far as the political situation is concerned.
Surendra: Other than this extra constitutional authorities... Surendra from Karnataka. Other than this constitutional authorities, as Adithi told just now, in Karnataka also there are so many instances where this extra constitutional authorities come and object in the name of maintaining law and order they stop our plays. Many many instances are there. Recently in Bangalore, M.S.Sathyu who directed our play, he made a statement on some individual. And those people came and stopped our play and unfortunately...those concerned with the department said in the name of maintaining law and order we have stopped the play. So such things are happening. So that way what should be our reaction? All of us should come together and do something for that.
Praveen: Could I attach to that?...
Praveen: I think these are two sides of the same coin. What Pralayn was saying and what we heard also from Akshara is that the state authorities, use the dramatic performances act or don't use it or ignore it according to their whims and fancies to suit their purposes. And on the other hand when you are doing something which you may have permission to do, because that's the word they use in Tamil Nadu, 'Police Permission'. So you go to a hall and they say "Do you have police permission?" So that is the first thing you have to do - get their permission. And when you may have their permission, you may have the licensed script that you may be performing, but when these extra constitutional bodies or workers from whichever party or whoever with a grievance comes and stops a performance, then they choose to stay away. At that point there is no protection for you. So its not as if getting a permission and having a licensed script helps you to say what you want to say. So as we were discussing yesterday, when you remove something, what then do you put in place. So it is not just enough to take away a prohibition, we have to put in something in play which is empowering and enabling. Thank you.
Sanjana: Sanjana. I think I have... A part of this is exactly what you say. There is one legal aspect and the other aspect has to be with building out community. Surely! We have faced situations over the past 30 years in Bombay in Prithvi theatre and there is no other community that will come up and support an act of aggression towards a theatre production or a theatre performance. And if we slowly, gradually build a theatre community, we will then come together as strongly as the opposing factor. Perhaps that is what then helps. It is not only the law. The law is one aspect and also we need to be equipped to know the law very well.
Devi: Devi, from Gajanan Mandali. Actually Gajanan Mandali is praised for ban long ago. That is in '46 to '51, We have ban on the organisation itself under the Dramatic Performances Act. That time actors and owners of Gajanan Mandali were jailed. All the actors were jailed. All sorts of things happened. But after the reorganisation of our organisation, there is the act but it was never implemented directly. Either on the states or the performances. Just 10 -12 years back, they started making some rules at the municipality level like when you are doing a play in a municipal auditorium it is necessary to bring a No Objection Certificate and all. Also some fees has to be paid to the municipality. As far as the street performances are concerned, now there is one thing which is imposed under the fund given by the old ban. If you take your 'Udukku', it is a very famous instrument in our village. We use 'Udukku' to mobilise people and all particularly in the streets. So if you want to do your 'Udukku' sounding in the village or town, you must take the police permission. You must go to the control room and ask the police that I am going to be using the 'Udukku' please give us permission.
Devi: And in Hyderabad particularly, this dramatic performances act is directly not implemented but implemented in a different way. Like whenever we start doing a play they say you bring a mobile performances permission from the police and pay fees for it. So when for example... (inaudible) came to Hyderabad, he has his play, we wanted to perform it in Hyderabad. So they said we are not giving you permission. We said we are going to perform it, you do whatever you want to as we have too many things. Artists are arrested under the nuisance act, not under the dramatic performances act. We said it is very insulting. You can put a dramatic performance act not the nuisance case. We don't agree with it. So finally they lifted the case... But this is what is happening. All the street performances, poor performances, they come under the nuisance thing and as far as they are not making a sensation or according to the police it is not under the law and order situation, then they don't come and ask anything.
Devi: But as a general rule they say you must have a performance thing but there is no submission of script or anything because whenever they arrested or... artists of Gajanan Mandali were beaten up very often by police while performing. Arrested and released. That is a part of daily performance for our artists. We were attacked by anti-social elements like... if the performance is against the land lords - tribal artists are performing then the land grabbers they attack. That sort of thing normally happens and police takes the side of naturally the people who attack. That is how it is indirectly implemented. When it is implemented by the state, as we have more voice to shout, so we shout loud and make it a point to... We make it a point to protest in the states with the community. Make a hue and cry of every small thing they do on the performance.
Devi: Often we get the support of the villagers or the community for whom the play is done. Mainly the play is done by the same community artist also. So that is one advantage we have in protesting the authority. But after the World Bank impositions on the municipality, their latest act is coming - which is very very harmful to the rights of the street performances and also in the proscenium. Now it is going to be implemented in the next coming one or two years. That is not the direct...
Person 1: What are these restrictions?
Devi: The restrictions are you have to submit the script to the police. Not even to the municipal authorities and take a No Objection Certificate. Only if you get the No Objection Certificate, you will get everything. We are protesting the passing of the bill itself.
Person 2: The pre-perormance application of the act, or post-performance application of the act. There is seldom application of the act before the show, it is always after the show. It is seldom in Manipur. There it is to catch this restriction on the performance or plays during the time of the state movement in Manipur, during the '60s there was a ban on the show. The title of the play was 'The Underlord(?)' written by (?) He did an enact of the play. And another one was during the '90s writer of the play was (?) 'Reign of blood', which supports the insurgency movement in Manipur.
Person 2: ... The distance of the act really surfaced very suddenly but within the framework of the law(?)... beyond the frame work of the law(?). There is censorship. There is very much restriction in Manipur. Because in Manipur there are two governments going in parallel ... Government of an established system and the government of the Insurgency. There are more than 1000 insurgent groups in Manipur. The other portions to restrict in the activities of the people. The ways to do and the ways not to do. They are the law making people beyond the law.
Person 2: So in the realm of theatre more on proscenium ban on theatre, alternative ban on theatre and on this line. Their restriction is there but low, but in the case of the commercial theatres.There are commercial theatres. Theatres of the open we call it 'Sumang Lila' They are the people who are doing the commercial kind of theatre. They are like earning money and making... On them there are much restriction on dress code, the kind of song to be sung. These are the restriction and banning by these insurgent groups. The performance are sometimes banned. They even take the leader of the group or the entire group to an unknown place where they are interrogated and changes were dictated to them to renew their kind of performance nature. So in this time of the opposition within the law and beyond the law kind of restriction what shall we do? This is the kind of question I want to ask.
Chandradasan: I am Chandradasan from Kerala. First, ... I feel that we are coming from a better kind of place. The thing is that we don't need to inform the police or the authorities or nothing like that to do a play or give a script or anything like that. But if you want to have a ticket etc. and all you have to inform your municipality that we want exemption. They can exempt you from paying the tax and such things. And if you are performing in a public place and it is beyond 10 in the night then you have to take license to use sound system in a public place. Its a general thing. The show may be applicable there also but and not implemented. But there are times in the history of Naya theatre in Kerala. Emergency was a different time. A performance was being performed and it was banned and the performers were arrested. The performance was against emergency. Later when a play based on a famous novel by Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ. That play was put up. The Christian church didn't find it very well. So they came up with protests, marches etc. and in the name of law and order situation, then the government banned the play. So the reaction of the government to the law and order situation - that's what the governments says. But there is a bit indiscretion for the right of performance.
Chandradasan: Then there was a street play done for this and the artists are arrested. The late (?) was part of the thing. So that was one instance where I remember that a ban is there on a play. And the other thing happens sometimes that BJP is not that powerful in Kerala but they are trying to gain their roots. One of my friends... a group from Thrissur which was performing a version of Renaissance against the rise of Pakistan but when he was to perform there was attempts to interfere in their performance by the BJP right wing people. But they somehow managed to organise a counter attack with the protection from the left groups so that the performance takes place. So such things may be increasing like a religious community, a fundamental community let it be a Christian, Muslim or Hindu... He is saying that this affects our sentiments.
Chandradasan: Then the government whether left or right is not there to help you. They will be with the religious segment. That situation may be increasing in Kerala. I would like to ask how to protest this, how to work against this? Is it only legal? Can there be some political pressure applied? Because we still feel we live in a democratic country and why don't we work on that line also?
I would like what's happening in Bengal - If somebody from Bengal can tell us what exactly is happening there, it could also add up?
Sanjana: Should we just get one last comment and then we will ask...
Sushma: I am from Maharashtra. Sushma. As Sanjana mentioned that in Maharashtra we need to have a sensor certificate first and then police permission. We have a censor board there and I am a member of the censor board. So I thought I must speak because there are a few members in the sensor board who are anti censorship. They don't want the scripts to be censored. So what we do there, whenever the scripts is taken a little offbeat or something, has come to us at least two certificates they should get and we manage. We all lobby for it together and we manage to give certificate for such scripts like me, Jothi, Shraddha, Khan there is a team and then we tell each other that give certificate to that. To be frank, we do all. Sometimes we don't even read the script if the person is in need of the certificate immediately and we manage to give 2 certificates to that script, and then you can take the censor certificate from the censor board.
Sushma: And I think this is the only style how to manage the things according to the given law. Even Surendra Shambu had a problem I remember. And so we did this type of things. Another thing what we fought in the censor board, because we are censor board member, that you should allow us to give the permission for some of the performance because even the collage boys have to take permission from the censor board in the competition also. So what we managed in that is that we can give permission for performances in a competition which we use otherwise also not only for the competitions. And if I have given the permission for one performance once, then I tell my other friends that this time you give the permission to that play. Then the third person gives and like that we try to manage that the play should go on. That's our strategy.
Shamala: I think, we need to identify when our performers are within their rights as citizens when they come up with a production because the kind of vibe we have in the establishment and the voices of protest will continue and the end of attacks that patten of support across the globe - I don't think that dramatics performances act can take care of that. But the performers have to be sure as to when are they within their rights in performing whatever they can.
Sanjana: Can we now have a response because we have to move on...
Siddharth: I think one point that came up was a distinction between what the dramatics performance act - as a form of pre-censorship... So you are submitting the script to the authority concerned so then they decide if there are certain changes whether it can be shown or not. And what happens after or during a play when it is being staged, and if somebody comes and objects to it, then I think there is a constitutional responsibility upon the state to protect your performance in that sense. So if there is an extra constitutional authority that is saying that we don't want this staged and the government refuses to protect a performance then that is a problem. And which I think, I am not someone who advocates the law for all the situations but in this case it may be worth while to explore a legal option in that sense, to push the right to freedom of speech and expression in this case to say that the government has the obligation to protect such performances as well.
Siddharth: If one can push the courts to say this I think it would be very useful in a sense. The question on what we could use within the existing thing - I think some of that came up with the example of being on the censor board. But other than that there is no... I mean, the right to information act is of no use in this situation. Once the DPA gives you the power to prohibit the performance of an act, there is nothing within that law that you can use unless you are on the censor board itself, and those kind of negotiations.
Siddharth: On instances on different states... There are states where, they may not have this kind of censorship operating, my only response is that I really don't know. There isn't much work done in terms of collecting much data and interviewing people to find out on a day to day basis how does the DPA actually work in practice? Are there any other forms of censorship operating outside DPA for instance, like police permission, all the examples that came up over here. And it is important to actually collect that material and then move forward from there either in terms of a campaign or a legal challenge or whatever. There is very little information in the public domain and this comparison with cinema is very important. Because the entire debate around censorship if you look at today has revolved around cinema. And theatre censorship if you ask people - I have been talking to people in this audience - very few people actually know how it operates, what is happening in other states? What the law says itself?
Siddharth: Also the last question on the state where it has been repealed I think. As far as I know the only state is West Bengal. I don't know if there is anyone here from Bengal because we haven't heard any examples but I think the DPA has been repealed in Bengal from what I read.
Sanjana: Lorita, is that true?
Lorita: It is true.
Siddharth: So that is the only state. So as far as the rest of the country is concerned, I think it is still a serious problem and it is something we need to think about. That's about it.
Sanjana: So this paper is available and we can email you if you want to write your name on the board over there. If anybody is interested in motivating and moving towards this we will keep you informed about these papers and ideas. Thank you very much. Thank You so much.