ISLAMABAD: The ban on the Ajoka theatre group performing at Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) has lifted, but the committee dedicated to ‘vetting’ scripts remains. This committee was formed during the Ajoka ban fiasco and now has the authority to ban plays before they are performed. They can also ask groups to ‘rewrite’ scripts that are deemed ‘inappropriate’.
Officially sanctioned by Senators, this ‘regulation’ of culture has received mixed responses from the public. The majority of critics however, were of the view that allowing the government to regulate art form and theatre sets a dangerous precedent.
Ali Rehman, an actor, said, “By imposing such bans and committees, the PNCA is restricting young artists from freely expressing themselves.”
“Instead of promoting culture, the government is setting barriers. No one is forcing anyone to come and watch plays. Those who do not want to watch the play simply should not come,” Rehman said. He suggested that the committee be allowed to review scripts and rate the content accordingly, but not ban completely.
“PNCA can put instructions on the cards or passes about what age group can come and watch the play. So mature plays can carry the original content of scripts, which should not be rewritten or banned, because that just ends individual creativity,” Rehman said.
Atif Siddique, writer, director and actor, said that the ban on Ajoka’s play Burqavaganza was an example of ‘bureaucracy interfering in art’.
“The Council has double standards; it is their responsibility to promote the culture of theatre in its true form and yet they do not allow people to perform anti-government plays,” said Siddique.
He felt that the PNCA should embrace the numerous underground bands, comedy groups and theatre groups in Islamabad. The groups hire private venues to perform which are become rare and expensive. The demise of theatre in Pakistan has left few venues functioning.
“If PNCA was doing its job, there would be no need to go to private venues to perform,” Siddique said.
Actors and directors said that the committee had been created in a hurry and the members were not representative of all relevant groups.
“Young people, who have fresh ideas, should be included in this committee. They should hold script writing competitions and to encourage writers,” Siddique suggested.
“Holding such competitions and offering incentives will allow the art form to blossom and some brilliantly entertaining plays will emerge,” he added.
Dawar, an artist and producer of bilingual commercial theatre company, Kopy Kats, said that bans should not be imposed. He was of the opinion that to address social issues and bring about change, people had to be removed from their comfort zone at least a little.
Young theatre artists fear that such rules could restrict their growth in the field of theatre and art. They said that most people tried to keep acting as a hobby because it was not a lucrative profession. They said that such restriction would make the field even less attractive.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 12th, 2010.
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