September 4, 2023

By Maryam Missal


Minister of Information and Culture Amir Mir has taken decisive action against what they claim are ‘obscene’ dances in Gujranwala and Faisalabad. Orders have been issued to remove the directors of the arts council in Faisalabad and Gujranwala from their positions due to their failure to curb the presence of ‘indecent’ performances in local theatres.

Four theatres in Faisalabad that were showcasing ‘obscene’ performances have been shut down.

Mr Mir has accused the two directors of the Arts Council, who have been removed from their positions, of allowing obscenity under the guise of art.

In lieu of the dismissed officers, new officers have been appointed to assume their responsibilities. Amir Mir said that strict directives have been given to the heads of Arts Councils throughout Punjab, ordering them to vigorously oversee stage productions.

The theatres — Sabina, Manerva, Noor Mahal, and Manerva Gold — were sealed over violations of the Drama Act, a Punjab government statement said on Saturday.

The Dramatic Performance Act of 1876 empowers the Government to prohibit public dramatic performances that are scandalous, defamatory, seditious or obscene.

Information Minister Amir Mir told reporters that the Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi has tasked the deputy commissioners across Punjab to curb indecency in stage performances.

“These theatres will undergo daily scrutiny, and swift punitive measures will be taken against transgressors. Under the vigilant oversight of the ministry officers from the Punjab Arts Council and the DC offices will monitor these stage dramas” said Amir Mir in a press conference on September 2.

He further said, “Special Monitoring Committees have also been constituted to monitor stage dramas regularly, and all stage performances will be meticulously recorded by government-designated camera persons.”

According to Amir Mir Punjab cabinet is already in the process of amending the Dramatic Performance Act of 1876, he said, “Within a span of two weeks, this legislative amendment will comprehensively ban dances in stage dramas.” 
Earlier, the government had closed 10 theatres in Lahore and its adjoining areas.

Concerned Voices

Shahid Nadeem, a playwright associated with Ajoka Theatre and a human rights activist, told that the Dramatic Performance Act of 1876 was a colonial law imposed by colonial powers to suppress dissenting voices.

“We have been advocating for the abolition of this law for years, but tightening this draconian legislation will jeopardize the freedom of speech and expression in art,” said Nadeem.

Nadeem believes that if the government continues to ban theatre, it will not only put hundreds of people out of work but also deprive audiences of entertainment and an outlet for expression.

“We have made several attempts for the government to collaborate with us to eliminate ‘obscenity’ from the commercial theatre, but we have never received a response.”

Dance is a subjective art form, and for some, it is considered sacred, Nadeem believes. However, currently, the term ‘dance’ is often associated with lewd and erotic movements.

“Instead of banning dance altogether, we should focus on penalizing performers who have misinterpreted the meaning of ‘dance.’ Banning dance as a whole is a violation of freedom of expression,” said Nadeem.

After witnessing four decades of theatre unfold before his eyes, Raheel Shah, a seasoned producer and director at Lahore’s Alfalah Theatre, believes that the trajectory of the art could have been different if it had not been relegated to the bottom of the priority list.

Shah shares how commercialism gradually overshadowed artistic quality over time.

“Producers began prioritizing revenue over the quality of content,” leading to a decline in production standards, says Shah.

Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a journalist and cultural critic, shared his perspective with on the matter, stating, “We claim to be decolonizing, yet we continue to fall victim to colonial-era laws, even strengthening their grip.”

Paracha believes that banning something has always been the government’s easy way out, and imposing bans on art aligns with the populist nature of the regime.

Punjab as a Target

Punjab has witnessed numerous bans on films, dramas, and various art forms in recent times. Discussing Punjab as a target, Paracha notes that, for the first time, Punjab is experiencing restrictions that other provinces have been facing since Pakistan’s inception.

“In the past, Punjab had rarely questioned the state’s actions,” Paracha stated when asked about the ban on theatre, particularly in Punjab.

Journalist and Human Rights Activist, Munizae Jahangir spoke to on the matter and said, 

“By closing theatres they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Shutting down the theatres which have been historically spaces for art and culture will only crush the already faltering industry of art and culture.”

Munizae Jahangir further added that, “There are many ways to ensure that the dance needs a certain level of criteria of decency however, shutting down theatres is certainly not one of them. Shutting down theatre is a conspiracy to crush art and culture from our society that so desperately needs it.”

Nadeem Paracha told that in Sindh, drama and theatre are recognized as art forms, and the inclusion of theatre as a subject helps sustain the culture of theatre in Sindh.

“In Karachi, theatre flourished due to the presence of formally trained actors who regarded acting as a disciplined art, whereas, Lahore witnessed a concerning development over time,” said Nadeem Paracha.

According to Shah, the theatre stages became saturated with comedians who were frequently tasked with impromptu performances, resulting in a deterioration in the quality of theatrical presentations.

A prevailing sentiment expressed by those concerned is that imposing bans is seldom the solution; instead, it kills an already faltering industry.


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