Thursday, February 14, 2013

Theatre groups revive censored plays

CHENNAI: With the Madras high court recently declaring that staging of plays in Tamil Nadu no longer requires police permission, several theatre groups are getting set to revive productions in their "unabridged", original versions.

The order has given Coimbatore-based poet Puviarasu impetus to revive the Indian People'sTheatre Association, which faded into oblivion several decades ago. "During the freedom struggle, IPTA performed plays with nationalist themes, several of which were banned or censored by the British," says Puviarasu. "With the police censoring scripts even after Independence, I felt there was no freedom of expression. Over the years, I lost the desire to stage plays," he says. He plans to restart IPTA in March with the political satire 'Manidhan,' which was censored in the 1980s.

In Chennai, playwright and director N V Sankaran alias Gnani plans to revive the Tamil adaptation of Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar's 'Kamala' on the changing role of women in India. "When we first staged it, we were forced to edit the play for objectionable content," says Gnani who in 2012 petitioned the high court stating that whenever his theatre group Pareeksha wanted to stage a play, the script needed to be cleared by the Chennai police commissioner. It was based on Gnani's petition that on January 23, the HC termed some provisions of the Tamil Nadu Dramatic Performances Act, 1954, "unconstitutional", among them the requirement for theatre groups to get police permission to stage plays.

Late Tamil playwright Komal Swaminathan's daughter Dharini has revived her father's theatre group Stage Friends and is planning to re-visit several of his classics. The first is his controversial 'Thanneer Thanneer' (Water, Water), based on water shortage in rural areas caused by bureaucracy and the apathetic attitude of politicians. "The play was banned in 1980 on the afternoon of its opening day. Only after certain dialogues were deleted did the police let my father stage it," says Dharini, who will stage the play in Chennai in March. "I am calling this production the re-inauguration of 'Thanneer Thanneer'. It is the original version, no cuts."

Waiting in the wings is Mahabanoo Modi-Kotwal's theatre group with Eve Ensler's play 'The Vagina Monologues', which has been banned on more than three occasions in Chennai. "We have been invited to Chennai to perform since 2004 but every time it is the same story - we get to the city and we are told the play has been banned," says Mahabanoo's son Kaizaad, who is the co-producer and director of the show. "We are asked to change the title or certain lines and when we refuse, we are not given permission," says Kaizaad. "Maybe now, we can have our first public performance in Chennai."

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