Censored; an insider’s view of an outsider’s sentiments
Forum Theater, as I learned on the day of the performance of Censored, is supposed to deal with topics that aren’t too impossible to solve yet are not too easy to solve either. In other words, FT is meant to open up dialogue and fuel thought on current topics that need support and a sense of movement to push through society, ideals and values that can be pushed through society.
Issues like these, however, often have strong counter arguments with movements of support of their own that can be quite hard to overcome. I’ll get to the point and run quickly through the focus topic of Censored; freedom of expression.
The background of events is the protest of Tamil actors in Tamil Nadu against the SL government and its treatment of Tamils in SL. This protest was embraced by most popular film personalities over there, while two famous actors shunned it saying something along the lines of it not being their problem. Obviously this created a lot of animosity towards those actors and pretty soon, there were calls to boycott these actor’s films from all corners where there were Tamils watching Tamil films. And generally, most Tamils (at least the ones I know) watch a truckload of Tamil films.
The series of events within which the story unfolds is set in modern day Colombo, a bunch of friends go watch a movie, they are cosmopolitan and are obviously cool with each other’s ethnicity and stuff like that. No problems there. To cut it short, one friend in that group gets an SMS from ‘Raj’ in England about how everyone should boycott movies of the two aforementioned TN actors and casually forwards it to another friend who is a Tamil (Kumar), who in turn forwards it to about 10 people he knows and gets himself arrested by a rather frightening looking officer from some government agency the very next day.
Now, the whole point of the play may have been to display that everyone has a right to forward an SMS if they feel like it. Right. I am in perfect agreement with that. That should be the case, and from audience reactions that seemed to be the common sentiments of everybody present.
But here’s where things get ambiguous, at least to the outsider inside me. All evidence points to them protesting only against the mistreatment of Tamils and not in support of the LTTE per se. That was the statement released by the body organizing the whole thing, and nowhere in any statements released by them did they indicate otherwise. They were merely protesting against the ‘genocide’ of innocent Tamils in the North as a result of the SL governments activities. In short the protest was with regard to collateral damage. Horrendous events that inevitably happen in any war. Just look at Palestine, Lebanon, Africa and a long list that’s just getting longer as the millennium wares on, but I digress.
Getting back to the point. This SMS thing. The outsider inside me wonders if it isn’t a good thing that these kind of activities are clamped down upon. He wonders if this SMS isn’t after all an anti-government SMS, an unpatriotic SMS, because they want to stop the war when we are winning it, and they are Tamils so they must be supporting the Tigers right? He is fed on government propaganda that has a subtle twist to it. Propaganda that states in no uncertain terms that this protest in TN is in direct support of the LTTE, he is a part of the mass majority that believes just that. And he thinks that more questioning should be done to discern exactly why that chap forwarded that SMS, because he thinks that in within the layers of Kumar’s mind, lurks nothing less than a traitor.
Am I making sense here? Or rather, is the outsider inside me making sense here? Freedom of expression is all very well, but what if such expression compromises your country’s war footing? Compromises its security and weakens it against its enemy? Admittedly, this SMS (at least to my mind) has nothing too unpatriotic about it. If people want to protest against the killing of innocents as a result of careless offensive tactics by a party at war I will definitely support their cause, but you have to admit that the lines are blurred, and very much so given the present situation of the country; Censored visited a grey area and came out unscathed. But what if, like Sanjana Hattotuwa said, we take it outside its comfort zone, outside the confines of the British Council, or even do a road show of it, what will the sentiments we receive from our audiences be like?
And what if the lines were blacker? What if that SMS was shown to directly condemn the war (or even went a step further to be shown to proclaim Eelam)? Does freedom of expression count there? In such a situation would we have proudly upheld the rights of free speech or would we have just wished for a white van to make it all go away? Anyone care to share their opinion?
– Halik Azeez
Halik is a Core Group Member of Beyond Borders and blogs anonymously elsewhere. His views are his own.