Indian Decade

Keep It Lean

You’d think filming a play rehearsal would be easy. Not so with Indian bureaucracy.

The other day, I went to cover an Afghani play in Delhi. The idea was to shoot the rehearsal before filming some parts of the actual play, and the director of the play gave his consent for me to do so.

My camera team and I arrived at the Jamia Milia Islamia University’s Ansari Auditorium, where the rehearsal was supposed to take place. ‘You’ll have to get the permission of the university authorities to go inside the auditorium,’ a guard told me curtly. I contacted the organizer of the South Asia Women’s Theatre Festival, and asked him why we needed permission to shoot when the play is open to the public and there’s no media ban on coverage.

The organizer sounded a little helpless in the face of the rigid bureaucracy of the hosting university. I was initially told to send a letter asking for permission. However, after a heated hour-long conversation, I was granted permission by the vice chancellor himself to shoot.

Unfortunately, by the time we got permission, our energy to shoot had been all but exhausted, and the rehearsal was almost over. Why can’t things in life be simple? Why do we have to be prisoners of prejudice and outdated assumptions and presumptions? And why does permission to shoot a rehearsal of a play in a university auditorium have to come from the highest authority of the University?

It’s almost two decades since India launched its economic liberalization policy, but old-style bureaucracy is still going strong. A restless and energetic India needs a lean, flexible and progressive civil service.