Crackdown on obscene content in theatres | The Express Tribune


In an effort to curb obscenity and nudity in stage plays, the Punjab government has implemented a new Drama Act across the province.

The administrative control of all theatre halls, including those in Lahore, has been transferred from the Home Department to the Information and Culture Department.

Under this new act, the Punjab Arts Council, Information, and Culture Department will not only monitor but also regulate the activities of artists.

The new legislation, titled the “Punjab Theatrical Performance Ordinance 2023,” replaces the 150-year-old Dramatic Performance Act of 1876.

This change comes after previous efforts to eliminate obscenity in commercial theatres faced numerous legal challenges and loopholes.

Last August, during the tenure of caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi, the government sealed over 10 mega commercial theatres in Lahore, Sheikhupura, and Kasur for violating the old Drama Act and promoting obscene content.

Ali Nawaz, the then Secretary of Information and Culture Punjab, played a pivotal role in this crackdown. He prepared a comprehensive report recommending the transfer of administrative powers over commercial theatres to the Information and Culture Department.

The new act empowers the Punjab Arts Council (PCA) to oversee all aspects of theatre performances, from script approval to monitoring and disciplinary actions. Previously, the Deputy Commissioner’s Office and the Home Department were responsible for monitoring theatre activities and reporting any irregularities. However, by the time actions were taken, performances often concluded, and the involved artists had moved on to other theatres.

Section 10 (a) of the Punjab Council of Arts Act, 1975, now authorises the PCA to advise the government on all policy matters related to artistic and cultural activities.

A committee formed by the Council reviewed the old Dramatic Performance Act and suggested amendments to make it a more effective legal tool.

With the new ordinance in place, the PCA will develop business rules for commercial theatres, ensuring comprehensive oversight from script to performance.

The artists’ community has welcomed this change, expressing optimism that it will help eradicate obscenity from the stage.

Qaiser Sanaullah, Chairman of the Punjab Theatres Producers and Artists Association, was among the first to advocate against obscenity in theatres.

He emphasised the importance of producing family-friendly plays and praised the recent performance of the play “Zill-e-Shah” at Tamashil Theatre, which was well-received by families.

Sanaullah hopes that the new Drama Act will restore the lost glory of stage dramas by eliminating obscenity entirely.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2024.

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