“Contempt”- A Play About Section 377, Indian Penal Code- Is it Worth Watching?

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The Supreme Court of India’s landmark judgment on the legality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, is a hotly debated one. Danish Sheikh’s powerful play “Contempt”, currently being performed at Oddbird Theatre, is a thought-provoking rendition of legal proceedings that took place in 2012, interspersed with personal anecdotes of people most affected by this section.

Section 377 is an archaic law that criminalizes any act of carnal intercourse against the order of nature. These vague parameters mean that oral sex, anal sex, and even self-pleasure can be clubbed with the likes of bestiality (sex with animals) and pedophilia (sex with young children). In actual practice, though the section doesn’t specify this, the people most affected belong to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer) community, as their sexual engagement is different from a heterosexual one.


Poster courtesy: @dsheikh726@twitter.com

The play cogently points out that this section raises a stigma against people with different sexual preferences, affecting their access to safe medical care or basic human dignity and acceptance in society. As the reaction to a mere masturbation scene in a recent big-ticket Bollywood movie has shown, the average Indian isn’t ready to acknowledge different sexual acts, preferring to believe sex is only meant for procreation. The problem with this attitude is that young people grow up unaware of safe sexual practices, silently battling their natural urges. This can potentially affect their mental and physical health.

The play brilliantly portrays significant portions of the legal proceedings, where the conclusion of the judges is evident from the start. Despite the Delhi High Court holding a contrary view in a 2009 judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the LGBTQ community is so minuscule as to not be affected by this section at all; completely overlooking the hundreds of sworn affidavits of people that had already been affected by this section.


The crowds waiting for the play to begin at the Oddbird Theatre

Oddbird theatre is a wonderful space that can be customized to the needs of each play performed here, and the team of “Contempt” ably used this to their advantage. The sets were changed after each narrative as metaphors for the narrow-mindedness of the jury, and subsequent growing frustration of the lawyers and individual players as the hearings wore on. The one-hour duration of the play sufficiently presented interesting aspects of the whole case, without ever dragging. The background score and screen projections added depth and drama in a meticulous manner.

Saattvic, as the lawyer, delivered the legal discourse well. He made his frustration with the system evident, without being overly dramatic. Namit and Sunil Gupta were well-suited for their roles as stodgy judges, as was Danish Sheikh as a gay narrator. Amba-Suhasini Katoch Jhala was a tad screechy as an affluent, intelligent, young lesbian; but her drama added poignancy. The most riveting performance was delivered by Abhina Aher as a hijra, whose narration of heinous crimes committed against her was subtle yet chilling to the bone.


The lovely Oddbird Theatre space. Picture courtesy: redbull.com

Guild of the Goat, The Tadpole Repertory, Oddbird Theatre & Foundation, along with Oroon Das, Deepa Dharmadhikari, Danish Sheikh and Santana Issar; must be congratulated on producing this moving play. I recommend that everyone watch it so the public voice can collectively make a change for the better.

Play Rating: 4.5/5


Dates: June 8, 9, 10

Time: 7:30 p.m.- 8:30 p.m.

Venue: Oddbird Theatre, The Dhan Mill Compound, 100 feet road, Chattarpur, 1 km from the Qutub Minar metro station

Ticket Price: INR 500

*featured image courtesy: oddbird.org


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