A week before its release, Pakistan’s Oscar entry, Saim Sadiqs joy land, was banned in his home country. A November 11 order from the country’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting says the film was submitted to the Central Board of Film Censors Islamabad and awarded a certificate on August 17, 2022. However, it has now not been certified for “entire Pakistani cinemas” a comprehensive investigation into written complaints about the film.
“Written complaints have been received that the film contains highly objectionable material which does not conform to the social values and moral standards of our society and clearly violates the norms of ‘decency and morality’ under Section 9 of the Film Ordinance , 1979,” reads in the order.
Set in Lahore, the love story of Haider (Ali Junejo), the youngest son of the Rana family, and transgender dancer Biba (Alina Khan) is a tender but harsh critique of patriarchy.
The film was due to hit theaters in Pakistan on November 18 and had elicited an ecstatic response at its Indian premiere on November 5 at the Dharamshala International Film Festival, with an additional on-demand show the following day – which was too domestic.
The ban brings the state of censorship in Pakistan into focus and casts a shadow over it joy land‘s future at the Oscars, where he is in the running for Best International Feature Film. An official statement from the producers of the film is still pending. they tell Cinema Express that they are “figuring things out for now”. “We will have more information on Monday/Tuesday,” they said.
In an interview in Cannes, filmmaker Saim Sadiq said that the characters in the film came to him before the actual plot because they offered him an opportunity to explore certain things that were close to his heart. “Like the patriarchy. Like the idea of desire, which is so primal to everyone but still kind of taboo,” he had said. The very issues he is dealing with seem to have irked the conservative forces in the country.
Calls for the film to be banned have grown louder in recent weeks. Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan had protested against the film because it violated “Pakistan’s social values” and the institution of marriage and portrayed homosexuality. “joy land not only depicts an extramarital affair between two men, but also encourages gender reassignment,” says designer Maria B, who is spearheading the #BanJoyland campaign.
Popular actor Sarwat Gilani, who plays a central role in the film, took to Twitter to counteract such homophobic and transphobic objections and launched a #ReleaseJoyland campaign. “A paid smear campaign, on the other hand, is doing the rounds joy land, a film that made history for Pakistani cinema, has been approved by all censorship authorities, but now the authorities are giving in to pressure from some vicious people who haven’t even seen the film,” she tweeted, adding, “Shameful, that a Pakistani film was made 200 years ago Pakistanis over the age of 6 who got standing ovations from Toronto to Cairo to Cannes are being handicapped in their own country. Do not deprive our people of this moment of pride and joy! Nobody is forcing anyone to watch it! So don’t force anyone not to see it either! Pakistani viewers are smart enough to know what they want to watch or not. Let the Pakistanis decide! Don’t insult their intelligence and our hard work!
The Pakistani filmmaking community is predictably upset by the ban. “Why are films that are honest depictions of the devastation of patriarchy banned while films that uphold patriarchy are celebrated? It’s a devastating condition. My heart weeps for the country’s artists,” says Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Arshad Khan, who just a few months ago shed tears of joy at the Cannes Film Festival, where Joyland began its glorious run by premiering in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section marked not only Pakistan’s debut, but also walked away with the Jury Prize. It also bagged the Queer Palm, an independently sponsored award for the festival’s queer films. The highly acclaimed film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival, among others. His most recent achievement was the Young Cinema Award at the prestigious Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
The ban comes at a time when the ailing and emaciated Pakistani film industry has had an unexpectedly glorious year in cinema. joy land heralded the dawn of a new dawn in Pakistani cinema. Bilal Lasharis The Legend of Maula Jatt was released worldwide last month and broke all box office records. There was hope that this would increase the production of films, improve production standards in the Pakistani film industry and open up opportunities to tell all sorts of stories. The ban takes Pakistani cinema two steps back after one step forward.
The country has a terrible track record with censorship. One of the producers of joy landSarmad Khoosat, could not be released Zindagi Tamasha (circus of life) to this day due to pressure from the religious lobby, despite winning the Kim Ji-Seok award at the Busan Film Festival in 2019. “The film should have been called ‘The Circus that is Pakistan’ instead,” Khan said. When he took his own acclaimed, deeply personal documentary on immigration and identity, Abu, to Pakistan for a cross-country tour in 2019, some military officials threatened to shut down any venue that dared to show the film, he says CE. “In 2020 I showed it under the radar in private places. The distributors told me the censors would never let the film pass,” he says.
Caught in a busy shoot, Pakistani independent filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal said she needed to devote time and thought to this new development. But she tells CE: “I’m not surprised at all because it’s Pakistan.” The CBFC had banned her film i will meet you therein March of this year, a week before its scheduled release in the country for its allegedly negative portrayal of Muslims and Pakistani culture.
Karachi-based designer and socio-cultural commentator Mohsin Sayeed says the Pakistani people must protest against censorship, which he says doesn’t work with any particular technique, but “just whim and morality.” “The global film community needs to unite and find ways to support and restore the struggle of brave Pakistani filmmakers,” says Khan.
The immediate concern is opportunity joy land now at the Oscars. In order to qualify in its category, it must be shown in the home country. The film had gotten a head start with Nobel laureate and activist Malala Yousafzai coming on board as executive producer and was recently featured as a front runner indiewire‘s predictions for the category. It would be a real shame if Pakistan’s top marksman lost his lead at the Oscars. There is this thought that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might accept joy land because the film got the censorship certificate and the producers had intentions to release it. The film can still qualify for Golden Globes and British Academy Film Awards i.e. the BAFTAs.
There has already been talk of completely overhauling the international feature film category at the Oscars. Peter Debruge in his article in diversity had pointed out that “the selection of which film to submit is made by an easily corruptible committee with different rules and standards in each country”. Whatever the film’s fate now, its own country’s antipathy joy land will definitely underpin this call for radical change.