The Sunday Leader

Pusswedilla In Or Out?

By Megara Tegal

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, last week, intervened and assured that the latest edition of the comedy, Pusswedilla, will be allowed to be staged. The President had told the Director of the play that he was not aware the Censor Board had refused to give permission for it to be staged. The Censor Board of Sri Lanka did not permit Pusswedilla 4.1 to be staged at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia late last month.

History of restrictions

According to Feroze Kamardeen, playwright and director of the theatre series, since Hon. Chaminda Pusswedilla – the president of a fictional banana republic – appeared on stage in 2009, Kamardeen has been met with increasing restrictions from the Censor Board, and has had to make several changes to the scripts.

In 2011, Pusswedilla 3 was banned by the Censor Board as the play was set in Sri Lanka and direct links could be traced between the political satire and timely political events. To overcome this, Kamardeen changed the name of the country in the play. Since then, the subsequent plays have been set in the fictitious island of Arsik land.

When Pusswedilla 4.1 was to be performed, the Censor Board made a bizarre demand that the play could only be performed on certain days, or none at all. Perplexed by the strange demand, Kamardeen stated, “When censoring, time should not matter. If anything, censoring is about the content and not the time factor. Take food, for example, if the food served at a restaurant is unfit for consumption, then the item should be removed from the menu and not served only on certain days”.
Pusswedilla 4.1

The latest Pusswedilla performance was due to be held on November 30 but never made it to the stage due to the Censor Board’s ban, on grounds that the script was critical of the Commonwealth summit that was held in Sri Lanka last month.

Describing parts of the script that Gamini Sumanathileka, Chairman of the Censor Board, had disapproved of, Karmadeen revealed, “Pusswedilla gets a call from the Indian Prime Minister to discuss fishing in Pusswedilla’s territory. To which the unyielding Pusswedilla says ‘stealing is stealing’, and refuses to allow Indian fishermen to fish in Arsik land waters. The Indian Prime Minister then suggests that if Pusswedilla allows his fishermen to fish in Arsik land waters for free, he would then allow Arsik Land people to buy sarees in India for free”. He went on to say that Sumanathileka had informed him that he felt they were making claims that Sri Lanka had made a deal with India about the long standing controversy of fishing in Sri Lankan waters.

“We were poking fun at India with obvious sarcasm – not Sri Lanka, let alone implying that any sort of deal was made”, Karmardeen explained, bewildered by Sumanathileka’s interpretation of the script. Other issues brought up were the CHOGM parallels.

Kamardeen elaborated that the short 25 minute play was a mere 12 pages, and was, therefore, not a time consuming document to read. The script was handed over to the Censor Board on November 18, and the theatre group did not receive a response from the board until Kamardeen had called the Sumanathileka to inquire about the status of the play on November 28 – two days before, prior to the performance. Sumanathileka had then informed him that he could not issue an approval for the staging of the play. “I then asked him if we could change any part of the script that he found too controversial, to which he replied ‘no’, because the play was critical of the Commonwealth Summit”, he added, “but then newspapers and other media have been scathingly critical of CHOGM 2013”.

No threats posed

While the Pusswedilla series is manifestly political satire based on events in Sri Lanka, it has not posed a threat to national harmony. “I don’t understand why they would be afraid of the Pusswedilla play. None of the previous four plays have caused any issues. My audience has never incited any social upheaval after having watched a performance. They watch it, have a good laugh and go home”.

In fact, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, attended a performance on January 14, 2012, and it was widely published in several newspapers and news websites that he had enjoyed the play a great deal.

Speaking about the script being dismissed by the Censor Board, Kamardeen stated “they must understand the Constitution and the freedom of speech and expression that we, as citizens, are entitled to. This is an infringement of our rights.”

Response of the Censor Board

When The Sunday Leader contacted Gamini Sumanathileka, Chairman of the Censor Board, he stated that the board is in the process of considering the play and denied banning the play. “We are considering it again. We will reach a final decision in one week. The script has to go through several readings and comments are made. We have to assess all these comments before we can reach a decision”.

3 Comments for “Pusswedilla In Or Out?”

  1. Cobra

    A shame. Some people just don’t seem to get the satire of the play, why? Guilty conscience!

  2. Wasaam

    Gamini Sumanathileka must be pooping bricks :D

  3. cindymontrose

    Super jokes. The freedom should be there to have a joke at the expense of the people involved and doing wrong things. The Pussweddilla should be allowed to perform as they wish to and show the truth.

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