India: Supreme Court breaks police stranglehold on theatre

“If Chennai doesn’t have vaginas, it is full of a#*holes!” quipped Mahabanu Mody Kotwal in the opening act of The Vagina Monologues when it was staged in Mumbai.

The veteran theatre actor and director had good reason for using the pun. In December 2010, when the play was to be staged in the city for the first time, the Police Commissioner played spoilsport at the eleventh hour and declined permission.


Theatre’s subversive and liberating potential is renowned, and governments the world over have never held themselves back from wielding the censor’s bludgeon, but in India, it is the police which has been vested with remarkably sweeping powers to crack down on theatrical performances.

Earlier in 2014, a play on the Partition of India wasn’t allowed to be staged in Bangalore, and yes, Chennai. In both cases, it was the police which called the shots in the cancellations.

However, Chennai’s travails might well be over because in January 2014, the Supreme Court struck down those provisions of the legislation – The Tamil Nadu Dramatic Performances Act, 1964 which permitted the cops to be the sole arbiters of “suitable” drama in the first place.

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