Ban on Chintamani-The scrawled firman has zero wisdom

Kanyasulkam by Gurajada Apparao, Chintamani is another piece of literary work in the genre of drama that stood the time. Instead of feeling proud of our literary heritage, how can the government justify the ban?

By M Sridhar  Published on  26 Feb 2022 5:56 AM GMT
Ban on Chintamani-The scrawled firman has zero wisdom

No law was followed- only flaws

AP Government rendered another blow to Freedom of Speech &Expression by prohibiting the play of Chintamani- a popular social drama written a century ago by Kallakuri Narayana Rao. None know why Chinatamani was banned? Has anyone cared to scrutinize the Government Order that proscribed the drama's performance? Chintamani drama fights against the social evil of prostitution. Some unscrupulous theater managers interpolated some sleazy dialogues into the mouth of a character called Subbisetti, a vysya businessman of town, who ruined his wealth and health by handing over the entire property to a prostitute. The Vysya social group of AP felt that such a character was insulting their caste and was demanding its prohibition. Instead of prohibiting those dialogues, and saving original drama with its laudable message the government chose to ban the entire play, without giving any reasons.

It appears the Government did not care to go through the original script. Even anyone had tried, it is doubtful if they had the language skills to comprehend the drama. The government rushed to tom-tom the news about the ban. The harried government's proscription order was made with less wisdom and in undue haste. Why should there be a ban at all? Who did ask for the ban? Would it suffice if a couple of organizations press for the ban? Has the role of Subbi Setty in the drama shamed the Vysya caste? Or, did it bring a good name to the Vysya caste with a social reform message not to get ruined by running around brothels? Can't people discern the essence of the author's intentions? Have the powers at the helm lost their mind in assuming that the classic drama that survived for a century became outdated? If a section of a particular caste feels really bad, is it not the bounden duty of the government to fathom out if the pain is really justified?

Kanyasulkam by Gurajada Apparao, Chintamani is another piece of literary work in the genre of drama that stood the time. Instead of feeling proud of our literary heritage, how can the government justify the ban?

As per Copyright Act, interpolation of irrelevant dialogues would amount to a breach of moral rights such as distorting the character created by the original author, which amounts to a crime. By distorting Subbisetti's character, those theater writers deserve to be prosecuted under the law, besides deletion of those dialogues. It does not call for a total ban on the drama. It is surprising that the civil servants and political rulers do not know this basic point. It is reasonable for the Vysya community to get offended by the vulgar dialogues added forSubbiSettyrole. It would deprecate the author too, who in fact had not scripted any such profanities.

Cinemas get censored. There is a Committee to scissor such smutty and offending language. We all agree that the axing of such salacious conversations is a reasonable limitation to the freedom of expression. That does not mean that the total movie has to be banned. It is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In fact, SubbiSetty dialogues are nothing before the carnal porn video culture that is available in cyberspace.

The Arya Vysya Sangham asked for a ban stating that the play does not lead to social reform, but, would seduce the people into vices. The government readily agreed and banned. It said that it would take strong action if anyone violates the proscription. The moot point the community leaders should earnestly ponder over: Will staging the drama really harm society? Or do the obscene dialogues that were interpolated over the years by unscrupulous people tend to impair society? At least the government must have addressed these concerns and made the right choice.

Is Chintamani drama merehistory now?

No. It has lived a century-long and it is still alive. It is highly hypocritical to ban such a socially meaningful play by the government that promotes a toxic culture of casinos involving crores of rupees defiling the auspicious occasion of Makara Sankranti.

Plethora of absurdities

Some art lovers of Visakhapatnam invited the senior artists; one among them has a big name for his role as Bilwamangaludu, to enact the drama. The artists from Hyderabad and other places reached with all their paraphernalia. They declared that they would play only according to the original script written by Kallakuri Narayana Rao. They also assured that they would not follow the interpolations that were risqué. It was a caveat to those spectators who would really want to enjoy the titillations by lubricious dialogues. While the play was on the anvil, a group of Arya Vysya leaders consisting of youth, elders, women, and educated persons, came and threatened not to play Chintamani drama. They told the actors that since it was their resolution to oppose the enactment, they demanded the actors to close shop and go back. Director and the actors appealed to the group again and again that they would never intend to belittle anyone. They even entreated them that they already spent around Rs 20,000 in the course of preparation. Vysya leaders were liberal and gave Rs 20,000 to the actors' team. A senior actor sheepishly asked the leaders of Arya Vysya Sangam an innocent question: "Did you read the drama? Did you ever watch the show?" They all conceded that neither they read the piece nor watched the play. They confessed that they were not even aware of the author of the impugned drama. Naturally, another query followed. Then, how are they sure that their sentiments would be hurt if the drama is played? Their faces went blank. It looks ludicrous, but these are hard facts.

Callous order from Government

The order was drafted in such a hurry that even the word Chintamani in the order was misspelt. Later it was corrected with ink. Chintamani means pearls blooming in the mind. Could the government ban all the pearls it carried throughout its history? This order is an illegitimate product of utter callousness and utmost hubris coupled with immense ignorance. The Special Secretary to the AP Government, Rajat Bharghav, in charge of the Department of Culture, must be an ignoramus of the role of Kandukuri Veeresalingam, Gurjada Appa Rao, and Kallakuri Narayana Rao.

Is Chintamani a regressive play that glorifies prostitution?

Chintamani drama does not show the Vysya caste in poor light nor glorify prostitution. Chintamani always haunts the message of ruining families with the vice of debauchery. Kallakuri Narayana Rao was a great social reformer. In the 1920s, he wrote a drama VaraVikrayam, a drama castigating the social evil of dowry. And he wrote Chintamani to fight the evil of prostitution. The social reformers of yesteryears fought for a healthy society shorn of social evils. They utilized all the means including the arts and literature- stories, dramas, novels- as weapons to fight the prevailing evils. Though they scripted dramas, dramas were not played on stages.

Chintamani is a literary fruit of the social reform movement

The warriors of Social reformers armed with their pens as their weapons challenged then prevailing social evils such as prostitution, bride price. Gurajadaexcoriatedthe bride price in his illustrious drama KanyaSulkam( Bride Price). Many writers wrote dramas on the oldest profession. In 1893, KandukuriVeesalingam wrote VesyaKantalu( Courtesans).Before this, he wrote two dramas- KoutukaVardhani and VesyapriyaPrahasanam. PanappakamSrinivasacharyluwrote the drama- Kanakangi-in 1990. In the same year, MantripragadaBhujanga Rao wrote Varakanta. In 1914, Kolacham Srinivasa Rao wrote Nachchi Party and DronamrajuSitarama Rao VesyaMadhuram in 1915. In 1917, BuddharajuEswarappaPantulu penned VesyaLampatam and Dronamraju- VesyahitaBodhini. In 1918, Tirumala RaghavacharyuluVesyamritam and MalakapalliPedaSeshagiri Rao in 1919 wrote Chintamani Vilasam. In 1920 Kallakuri Narayana Rao authored Chintamani and in 1922 VesyaProbhodham by DuvvuriJagannadha Rao. There is a long list of books on the same theme of prostitution that were published till 1947. Chintamani or Leelasuka, Bilvamangala aka Chintamani, Kantamati, Varakanta, Vyabhicharini, Navarasa Chintamani, MuddulaMohanangi, VesyaSahavasaPhalitam, Probhoda Chintamani, VysyaVesyaVadha, BogamMelam, KapataVesyaNatakam, Mangatai, VyjayantiVilapam, Bilvamangala, Vesyakamottaram, Vilasavarakanta, Sani Kompa, Nishpalam, etc,.Among hundreds of the dramas, Chintamani became the most popular one.

Chintamani lost its sheen in the present times and is no more popular than KanyaSulkam. In social media, there are some discussions and nothing beyond that. In the metros, theatre activity has become almost outdated. The old dramas full of poems are rarely performed, and the new generation thinks that these literary gems are mere archeological pieces.

The story of Chintamani

GurajadaApparao's satire exposed the atrocities of feudal Brahmins (recipients of land grants) who were selling their adolescent daughters. This drama even today evokes an incredible response and is still popular. Fortunately, no Brahmin organization demanded its ban. The absurdity of ban culture is going too far with the pretexts of sentiments being hurt. If this were to continue, can any literary criticism survive in society at all?

It is unfortunate that those urged for its ban and the surrendered government forgot the fact that Kallakuri Narayana Rao wrote the drama to ignite consciousness on the pestering social problems of those days. Chintamani is the heroine. She is a beautiful and cultured woman. Her profession is prostitution. One Bhavani Sankar surrendered all his wealth to her and has become a vagabond. Chintamani's mother is Srihari. Her name is synonymous with her character- Sri means wealth and Hari means evaporation. Chintamani has magnetic looks and a tantalizing appearance. She is called Narahari, as her power to seduce men is profound. Srihari is a terror to all the lotharios who visit Chintamani. Srihari won't allow any customer without shelling out money. Bilvamangaludu is the hero in this drama. Chintamani seeks the company of Bilwamangaludu, as he is educated and a rich man. She expresses her desire to Bhavani Sankar to bring Bilwamangaludu. Bhavani Sankar obliges and brings Bilvamangaludu. Later, Chintamani regrets her prostitute life. There is a subplot of SubbiSetty, who like Bhavani Sankar loses all his properties in his allurement to Chintamani, and goes belly up selling snacks in the streets for his livelihood. Bhavani Sankar, being a Brahmin, takes the profession of a water carrier by bangy to make both ends meet. Bhavani becomes poetic in his melancholy:

"I showered all my ancestors' lands and kept at your doors,

I lavished my mango garden to you gifted to me by in-laws".

Dramatis personae

Chinatamani was written based on a Sanskrit drama- LeelasukaCharitra. Important characters in Chintamani are- Chintamani, Bilvamangaludu, Bhavani Sankaram, Srihari, Chitra. The drama revolves around two roles mainly- Chintamani and Bilvamangaludu. Bilvamangaludu, beguiled by Chintamani, neglects his wife and father. He cedes all his wealth to her. He loses his wife and father too. Lord Krishna appears in Chintamani's dream. She develops detachment from all the mundane desires and becomes an ascetic. Jilted by Chintamani, followed by the death of his wife, Bilvamangaludu was heartbroken. But he too changes. With a call from Somadeva saint, he joins the Ashram and becomes a hermit. Now he is LeelasukaYogindra, who wrote an anthology in Sanskrit – Sri Krishna Karnamritham. He is also called BilwamangalamSwamiyar. This is the story of Chintamani in a nutshell.

Mahakavi (a great literatus) Kallakuriand his life

The social drama, Chintamani shook the Telugu land. There has been no parallel drama with such a social reform theme. It became massively popular. By 1923, it created a record of sorts. The drama was staged 446 times by that time. In 1923, i.e., 99 years ago, SujanaRanjani Publishers of Kakinada published it. In these 100 years, Chintamani was played thousands of times wherever Telugu people resided. In fact, considering the historical prominence it acquired the AP government ought to have taken the initiative to have arranged the staging of this play all over the world where the Telugu population is in good numbers.

Kallakuri was the first to be given the title of mahakavi (great literatus) even before Sri Sri was conferred upon this title.

Kallakuri Narayana Rao who wrote this lustrous piece of literature- Chintamani- was born on 28 April 1871 in Matsyapuri village near Veeravasaram of West Godavari District. He passed away on 27 June 1927. He spent most of his life in Kakinada. Chitrabhyudayam, Padmavyuhamare too his notable writings. Great Kopparapupoet- brothers of last century eulogized Kallakuri's impressive craft of his dramas: "People frequently ask to repeat the poems and dialogues, shouting- 'once more'." Well known as a literary figure, the prominent journalist Ma Sharma, who is at the forefront to propagate the literati of Koppurapu poets, wrote in an editorial In Andhra Patrikaon 14-12-2020 that Chintamani would remain as an immortal piece of literature. In his 19 January 2021 editorial he wrote that it is the duty of the government to keep the arts and literature alive. He argued that the real solution is only to peruse the script of the drama and allow it to be performed. 'It is unethical to hurt the sentiments of some communities. Performances, with lewd dialogues and double entendres, are abominable. They should be curtailed by all means', the editorial reasoned.

'The Telugu language lovers are angry with the ban. They say that banning Chintamani drama is insolence to mahakavi. If the performers can play the drama without giving any scope for rubbing salt on the sentiments of any community, it should not be a problem. The government can even take an undertaking from the performing teams too and should allow drama to be played in theatres. The blanket ban order has to be revoked. Let there not be any fetters on Chintamani. Let us wish to revive the old glory of Chintamani and everyone should come along in this endeavor. Ma Sharma wrote in his editorial.

Kallakuri was a multi-talented personality. He was a social reformer, the first publisher, performer of Harikatha, poet, actor. He ran a magazine- Manoranjani. He not only took social evils to task in his dramas, in fact, but he also practiced what he preached. An inter-caste marriage is an adventure in those days. He married a woman from kalavantula caste. He courageously withstood the ostracism of his caste people. Many prevailing social evils became themes of his dramas in Chintamani, Varavikrayam, and Madhuseva. All these dramas became immortal. All the other dramas slowly faded into oblivion, but Chintamani continued with times. This is a drama full of poems. The dialogues are dazzling. The lyrics of the poems are simply enchanting. Overall, the drama is a visual feast. Ma Sharma says Kallakuriwriting style is unique.

Chintamani has been made twice into movie

For a long, at least some people, stuck to the original draft of Kallakuri and played Chintamaniin theatres. It was made into a movie too. First in 1933, under the direction of kallakuriSadasiva Rao, a movie was made. PulipatiVenkateswarlu and Dasaritilakam played the main characters. In 1956, PS Ramakrishna Rao directed a new movie of Chintamani with NTR and Bhanumati playing the main roles. Bharani Studios produced this film. Ironically the movies were not successful like the drama. Chintamani drama was always a big hit among the people. Actors like Burra Subrahmanya Sastry were enchanting the audience with their thespian skills. Burra in Chintamani's role, with his seducing voice and coquettish demeanors, enthralled the audience.

What did the ban achieve?

No government can curtail the freedom of expression save to protect the public order. If any restrictions are imposed, such chapping of rights unequivocally tantamount to misuse of power. What kind of public order the government has achieved by this meaningless order? A total ban is simply an injudicious decision. The government would have cautioned not to interpolate any dialogues and asked the performers to play strictly according to the original script. That would have the increased government's esteem among the people. The TV channels are dishing out profanities 24X7, the internet is serving the obscenities unhindered, the movies are spluttering vulgar item songs, but the government comes with a foolhardy decision to ban a historically popular drama. Would the government ban if Brahminorganisations press for banning of KanyaShulkam? In every movie, a villain happens to be from one or another community. Shall we lose all the discernment and wisdom to forego the creative arts- literature, theatre, and cinemas? If every community becomes too touchy and asks for banning on depicting their community person as a villain, can the cinema survive? Criticism is important but discernment is more important. That was precisely lacking in this instance. Why they should impose a ban at all was not well thought of. It was knee-jerk action. Now everyone is googling to search Chintamani, expecting some juicy conversations from the drama. The bawdy and indecent dialogues of the adulterated versions do appear in YouTube in due course, ostensibly for explaining why this drama had to be banned, defeating the very purpose of the banning. Chintamani and SubbiSetty will have reincarnation in social media with a bang. In the days of social media, such bans are counter-productive.

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