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Wednesday, July 24, 2024  
17 Muharram 1446  

Saim Sadiq’s Joyland all set for release after ban overturned

Film revovles around the story of a married man who falls for a transgender dancer
Director Saim Sadiq of Joyland on why his film’s release was stopped in Pakistan | Aaj Exclusive

Internationally acclaimed Pakistani film Joyland, the country’s official entry to the Oscars International Feature Film Category, has been given the go-ahead for screening in cinemas across Pakistan.

PM Shehbaz Sharif’s aide Salman Sufi shared the news on Twitter, saying that the committee constituted by the premier had cleared hte movie for release.

It didn’t go down well with Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan who accused the government of capitulating to ‘external pressure and secular lobby’ and that Western diplomats were treated as viceroys in the country.

The senator wrongly claimed that the movie was nominated in the LGBTQ category at the Oscars, while calling the reversal of the ban a misfortune.

The decision to reverse the ban comes days after the country’s federal film censor body banned the film for containing “highly objectional material” that does not conform with the “social values and moral standards of our society”.

The film had won multiple accolades at film festivals from Zagreb to Zurich and Singapore to Sao Paulo, including the jury prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

It was certified for screening in August by the Central Board of Film Censor (CBFC), a federal body, and the provincial censor boards in Sindh and Punjab.

Saim Sadiq, the film’s director and writer, told Aaj Digital that a few seconds were edited based on the censors’ recommendation, which otherwise gave the film the go ahead.

In September, the country’s Oscar Selection Committee nominated it as Pakistan’s entry to the Oscars.

The movie was scheduled to hit cinemas on November 18, in time for the Oscars requirement of a nominated movie to be screened at a commercial cinema in the country for at least seven days.

However, on November 11, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a notification, “uncertifying” the movie.

Sadiq said the Joyland team found out about the ban from social media on November 12 after it was tweeted by Senator Mushtaq Ahmed. The senator has been one of the most vociferous critics of the movie.

The ban followed a rather heated debate on social media, where both #ReleaseJoyland and #BanJoyland has since been trending.

It came in the wake of pressure from right wings group, with Senator Mushtaq Ahmed leading the call for the ban. The calls for the ban, primarily from the right wing, was because the movie is seen as pro-LGBTQI.

Paradoxically, the ban comes on the heels of the raging success of “The Legend of Maula Jatt”, which has already become the highest-grossing Pakistani film worldwide since its release last month and is viewed by many as the start of a renaissance for local cinema – long eclipsed by neighbouring India’s glamorous Bollywood.

Sadiq observed that the decision to ban the film, on flimsy pretext, sends the wrong message to filmmakers and detrimental to the much-talked about revival of the country’s cinema industry.

“We need all kinds of movies for the industry’s revival. Not all movies can be action-packed, some are slice of life as well.”

The film revolves around the story of a married man and his family. His relationship with family members. He gets hired as a background dancer in a Punjabi mujra theatre, says Saim, who hails from Lahore.

There he befriends and falls in love with a transgender dancer, and that I guess is the objectionable part, opines Saim, adding that the team was never given specifics about why the film was banned.

The movie’s release comes has been marred by controversy surrounding the country’s transgender bill, which many have claimed gives cover to same-sex marriage. Here’s our story that might help clear out some of the misconceptions.

Sadiq said people who have accused his movie of promoting such ideas have not seen the film and are basing their criticism on hearsay and forwarded messages.

“The censor board cleared it and did not find anything objectionable in it initially,” he said. “What or who are these malicious elements under whose influence the government decided to reverse its original decision,” asked Saim Sadiq while speaking to Aaj Digital prior to the announcement of the lifting of theb ban.

He expressed hope that the relevant ministry and censor boards would outline a clear process that filmmakers must go through to get the surety that their films would be screened.

“We can’t even seem to do that even after getting certified and getting approval from the censors.”

For those protesting against the film, the young filmmaker had a response that belied his age.

“Those who do not want to watch the film or protest against it, I won’t say anything to you. It is your right not to watch it. But to call for it to be banned would deprive others who want to watch the movie,” he said.

On its participation in the Oscars, Sadiq said he was hopeful of a turnaround. “We want the film to be screened in Pakistan because its essentially a Pakistani story and meant for Pakistani audiences,” he said about the Oscars stipulation that requires a film to be run on commercial theatres for at least seven days before its November 30 deadline.

“However, if we are unable to have it screened in Pakistan, then we are looking at some other countries where it could be screened for a week.”

The Oscars committee is known to accept nominations if the film has been screened in a different country due to exigent circumstances.

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Saim Sadiq