Culture under siege

September 24, 2023

TV serials facing the specter of bans

Culture under siege


he epidemic of censorship continues. Earlier, only cinema was in its grip but now teleplays, too, are getting banned.

Hadisa, a TV play, has been targeted because parts of it resembled an unfortunate incident a few years ago with the criticism that it is an insensitive take on the sad episode.

A few weeks back, another teleplay on the issue of marital rape was criticised for portraying women as wives being different from the ideas upheld by some people. There was so much controversy that the play had to be re-edited according to the wishes of the more vocal sections of the brigade.

It is well known that certain institutions and personages in our society cannot be portrayed or discussed critically. We have all lived with this reality no matter how unsavoury it is seen to be. It has muffled the positive expression that a democratic society harbours for itself. That the list is growing longer as more areas of debatable material also being challenged all the time and proscribed is another matter. The big fear is that the list will become too inclusive and every person and institution will feel threatened by the mere mention of their name.

Elsewhere in the world, too, the space for free expression is shrinking. Now every race, nationality, religious denomination and even its sectarian take is laden with heavily charged sensors. One fears for a time when there will be too many holy cows. When too many people will claim hurt by even the smallest of gestures, an inaudible whisper or a mere glance.

The writer, the poet and the playwright and the painter all make their work according to what they think should be and the viewers have the right to be critical both ways, in positive and negative terms. The entire purpose of a creative output is to evoke a response as against a whimper that has not been noticed by the viewing public.

One fears for a time when there will be too many holy cows… when too many will claim hurt by even the smallest of gestures, an inaudible whisper or a mere glance.

A creative individual has all the resources at his or her command – these can be from life, own experiences or from history. All the ingredients are cooked and re-cooked in the cauldron of their imagination. It should be noted that the plays or the films or the stories are not documentaries that assume the significance of telling the facts to a tee. The documentaries are supposed to be based on facts as they happened without actually giving it a spin. But where the creative imagination is at play, it is not the representation of some incident as it happened but an artistic fact or a poetic truth. Every person has the right to create an imaginary world based on such a truth. The artistic criteria in the flow of consistency should be valued more for credibility than the stated take on truth.

The trend to bully production teams in such a manner that they are forced to change the play is regrettable. The end result is an implication to cater to the popular taste the dictate of the more vocal. This is what all marketable work floated on public platforms is supposed to do by not wanting to ruffle feathers. But a few ought to go against the grain and should not be seen as being a threat to humankind.

Actually, the entire purpose would be lost by such definitive acts or statements or stances. The middle ground of doubt, tentativeness and thus a motive for delving deep into the human condition is getting ruled out or is being forced to be ruled out. A single narrative can be damaging to a civilisation or at least what we understand it to be. Democracy is the core of our political existence. It rests exclusively on the difference of opinion but then it should be taken in the same spirit of tolerance.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

Culture under siege