For a while now, there has been debate over the kinds of content that is befitting of censorship in Pakistan. While our censorship board PEMRA’s code is clear about the prohibition of any blasphemous content, there is still much confusion over what exactly can be put on screen. Take the case of Zindagi Tamasha.
Sarmad Khoosat’s Zindagi Tamsha was initially set to hit theatres on January 24th but is now on indefinite hold. The team behind the film faced backlash for their content being too “bold” and “blasphemous.” And yet, despite the filmmaker’s direct plea to the Prime Minister and a wave of support from artists, the situation around the film’s release is grim.
The uproar over the movie follows a pattern of misguided attempts by regulatory authorities to stop “dangerous” content. After all, after the ISPR funded Malik was banned for promoting a pro-army agenda and portraying the politicians solely as corrupt officials, you would imagine that there would be similar resistance to Hum TV and PTV Home’s Ehd-e-Wafa.
That ISPR backed, comedy-drama became a mega-hit for the networks and did much to lionize the role of the army in ruling the country, and not merely in matters of defense. Yet, there is a rather strange silence about the drama, that wasn’t the case with the 2016 political thriller film. Similarly, PEMRA was very opposed to social issue dramas like Udaari despite the plethora of ongoing child abuse cases that the show had helped highlight.
So, what makes Sarmad Khoosat’s upcoming film so volatile? The film, written by NCA alumni Nirmal Bano and starring Arif Hassan, Samiya Mumtaz, with a host of newcomers joining them, depicts a small property dealer who is ostracized from society once a video of him dancing at a wedding goes viral.
The film Zindagi Tamasha underwent two rounds of screenings by the Censor Board and was passed before someone saw it fit to have the Islamic Council of Ideology judge the film simply because the man in question looked scholarly. And herein lies the most troubling part of all the debate around this film.
The movie’s main character isn’t a cleric but rather a Muslim man, but his appearance differs from your everyday Pakistani drama dad look to the point that his look seems more scholarly. And for some unfathomable reason, it appears that Tehreek-e-Labaik has taken it upon themselves to stop the film’s release at all costs.
Their violent anger towards it eschews all conventional wisdom, but you have TLP leaders like Khadim Hussain Rizvi making statements that the film will “only release over his dead body.” The matter of fact is that there is a difference between going against religion and shedding light on social issues, no matter what race or creed someone may be.
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PEMRA’s draconian grip on media is already a cause for concern, but with hurdles being created for entertainment that dares to step out of the box of love stories, and bickering in-laws, there is only so much that entertainment writers and creators can do. Failure to provide creative freedom to the few intelligent creators of our time will undoubtedly result in them circling back to the brain-numbing Bollywoodesque movies and TV soaps that we all claim to dislike.