February 12, 2022 - 5:21 am

 Andhra Govt Banned 100-Year-Old Play

The Andhra Pradesh government’s ban on 100-year-old ‘Chintamani Natakam’ has triggered a row with the cultural organisations opposing it and terming it as an “attack on the freedom of the artistes, and culture and traditions of the State.” The government’s decision to ban the staging of the play was in response to the representation submitted by the members of a particular community objecting to certain dialogues and portrayal of a character in the noted Telugu play. The Arya Vysya community has been petitioning governments for several years to ban the play, saying it portrays them in a negative light. The play is exhibited across the state, mainly in rural areas, during festivals and fairs.

 ‘Chintamani Padya Natakam’ was written in 1920 by playwright Kallakuri Narayana Rao, who was also a social reformer. The play is about Chintamani, a courtesan and a devotee of Lord Krishna, who finds salvation by singing bhajans. She is courted by Subbi Shetty, a businessman from the Arya Vysya community, who loses his wealth and family due to his attraction to Chintamani. The original play had a social message, but over the years, it has been modified purely for entertainment. Another character in the play, ‘Bilavamangalam’, ignores his wife and visits Chintamani’s house frequently. His friend, ‘Bhavani Sankaram’, encourages him, which ultimately leads to his downfall. ‘Subbisetty’ too is a victim as he loses all his property and respect in society.

Much of the play sees central character Subbi Shetty made fun of, especially for losing all his wealth to his vices. Arya Vysya community leaders say the content and dialogues are offensive, and they are ridiculed about their appearance through the character, who is always portrayed as a short and dark-coloured person. The play has undergone many changes over the decades, and to make it more entertaining and funny, crude and vulgar language is used in many places, drawing the ire of the community. In 2020-21, several artist groups held centenary celebrations of the play across Andhra Pradesh, and a very raunchy version of it was exhibited. This had riled the community, which complained to the CM, leading to the ban. The state government explored the possibility of taking out Shetty’s character from the play instead of putting a blanket ban on it, but found him to be a central character.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court sought to know how the government can ban the exhibition of Chintamani Padya Natakam without banning  the Chintamani novel. Under Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a publication can be banned by the State government and a statutory authority Central Board of Film Certification exists for censoring and classifying feature films and  there is no such body under any law for censoring a stage play. Banning the stage play by the state government, acting upon a representation submitted by a section, would be excessive use of authority without legal sanction. The court sought to know as to how a stage play can be banned when such a ban was not imposed on the novel. The court asked the government to place before it the copy of representation given by the Arya Vysya community seeking ban on the play and asked the government and other respondents to file counters.

Poets, writers, artistes, and art lovers have appealed to the State government to lift the ban on the staging of the historic ‘Chintamani’ play as the story narrates how a social evil ruins lives. “The aim of the play is to eradicate social evils. The realisation that dawns on Chintamani is a clear indication that the play’s motto is good. Instead of banning the play, the government should have directed the organisers not to defame Subbisetty’s character as it has offended a particular community,” The government has a right to either remove a character or edit objectionable dialogues. But imposing a ban on the historic play is not correct.