Days after Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting banned “Joyland”, an internationally acclaimed local feature film for allegedly containing “highly objectionable material”, the film’s director Saim Sadiq said the cast and crew were gutted by the development.
Written and directed by debutant Sadiq, “Joyland” is Pakistan’s official entry to the upcoming Oscars in the international film category. The film faced the axe when the ministry banned it on November 11, barely a week ahead of its planned release on November 18 across the country.
“We – as a team – are gutted by this development but finally intend to raise our voice against this injustice,” Sadiq announced on Instagram last night, accusing the government of U-turn after the film was cleared by censor authorities.
“A number of people have put in years and years of hard work and money behind this film and we cannot allow that to go to waste based on baseless rumours and complaints from a few individuals that have suddenly overridden the law and the system.
“I urge Pakistan Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to please review this decision and return the right of our citizens to be able to watch the film that has made the country’s cinema proud world over,” he further said in his statement.
After the ministry’s notification went viral, the hashtag #ReleaseJoyland started trending on Twitter with social media users demanding the release of the movie.
Among those who have voiced their support for the release of the movie, include “Churails” star Sarwat Gilani, who is also one of the cast members of “Joyland”.
“There’s a paid smear campaign doing rounds against #Joyland, a film that made history for Pakistani cinema, got passed by all censor boards, but now authorities are caving in to pressure from some malicious people who have not even seen the film,” she tweeted.
Osman Khalid Butt, a well-known local actor of “Aun Zara” fame”, also rallied behind the movie.
“If the themes of Joyland (and this is a hypothesis – I haven’t seen the film) are too sensitive/mature for general audiences, then give it an appropriate rating,” he argued.
Fatima Bhutto, a writer and niece of former premier Benazir Bhutto, also criticised the move to ban the movie by calling the government action as “senseless”.
“The censorship of Joyland is senseless. Pakistan is teeming with artists, filmmakers, writers and has a cultural richness and more importantly bravery that the world admires,” she tweeted, adding that a smart state should celebrate and promote this richness instead of silencing it.
The authorities banned “Joyland” months after issuing a certificate for public viewing. The ministry prohibited its release in a typical knee-jerk reaction to apparently avoid the backlash by the conservative elements of the country.
“Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable material which do not conform with the social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of ‘decency and morality’ as laid down in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979,” the minister said in a notification of Nov 11.
In the same order, the ministry banned the display of the movie in the country.
“Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 9(2) (a) of the said Ordinance and after conducting a comprehensive inquiry, the Federal Government declares the feature film titled ‘Joyland’ as an uncertified film for the whole of Pakistan in the cinemas which fall under the jurisdiction of CBFC with immediate effect,” he added.
The ban was welcomed by the extremist elements and the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami’s senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan endorsed the government’s decision by announcing that was against Islam.
“Pakistan is an Islamic country and no law, ideology or activity can be allowed against,” he tweeted in Urdu.
The story of “Joyland” follows a patriarchal family, craving for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for a trans woman.
Sania Saeed along with Ali Junejo, Aleena Khan, Rasti Faruq, Salman Pirzada, and Sohail Samir are part of the main cast. It is produced by Apoorva Guru Charan, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, and Lauren Mann.
“Joyland” became the first Pakistani movie to be screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and it also made its way to the Toronto Film Festival. The movie won the Cannes Queer Palm prize for best LGBT, “queer” or feminist-themed movie. The film also won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard segment.
Last Friday, it won the Asia Pacific Screen Awards’ young cinema award, given in partnership with critics’ association NETPAC and the Griffith Film School.