Sri Lankan theatre causes a stir

July 2003 -

‘A Bed of Nettles’ is the title of a piece by playwright Visahesa Chandrasekaram. The production caused quite a stir in the Sri Lankan press this spring. Not only because of its controversial themes, but also because the piece showed that there is powerful censorship and that the criteria for that censorship are not at all clear.

Homosexuality, arranged marriages and the fact that women cannot divorce are the play’s themes. The ‘Council for Censorship’ rejected the play in its original form without explaining to Chandrasekaram exactly why. He did not receive a written rejection, nor was he told who was on the council. A second version, with a new title and without references to homosexuality was finally approved. But the director produced the original play. What is striking is that many television programs, radio programs and the print media have reacted and brought the question of censorship to the public’s attention.

Chandrasekaram worked for a Tamil human rights organisation and was familiar with Hivos because of this. A year ago he requested the Hivos Culture Fund to support his production and his request was honoured because the play has considerable artistic merit and deals with societal themes. It will be produced not only in the capital city Colombo, but in provincial cities, as well.

According to Hivos art and cultural expression can make a huge contribution to the processes of emancipation and democratisation. Without imagination there are no prospects for the future.