Week before release, Pakistan bans Saim Sadiq’s film 'Joyland', its Oscars contender

Jamaat-e-Islami senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan had objected to the film for being against “Pakistani social values” and the institution of marriage and for its portrayal of homosexuality.
Still from  Saim Sadiq’s film 'Joyland'.
Still from Saim Sadiq’s film 'Joyland'.

A week before its release, Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, Pakistan’s official entry to the Oscars, has been banned in its homeland. “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,” states an order from Pakistan’s information and broadcasting ministry, in reference to its Foreign Film submission, Joyland.

Set in Lahore, the love story of Haider (Ali Junejo), the youngest son of Rana family and the transgender dancer Biba (Alina Khan), Joyland is a tender yet trenchant critique of patriarchy. The film was due to release in Pakistan on November 18.

A poster of the movie Joyland which
has been prohibited in its homeland

The ban brings to focus censorship in Pakistan and casts a shadow over Joyland’s future at the Oscars where it is in the running in the Best International Feature Film category. In their first official reaction, filmmaker Saim Sadiq and Team Joyland call the revocation of certification for the film by the censor board in Islamabad a “grave injustice”, adding they were gutted by the development but intend to raise their voice against it. “I am compelled to point out that this sudden U-turn by the Pakistan Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is absolutely unconstitutional and illegal,” said Sadiq.

The call for a ban on the film had been growing shrill in the last few weeks. Jamaat-e-Islami senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan had objected to the film for being against “Pakistani social values” and the institution of marriage and for its portrayal of homosexuality.

“Joyland not only shows an extramarital affair between two men but also encourages gender transition surgery,” says designer Maria B who has been at the head of the #BanJoyland campaign.

Popular actor Sarwat Gilani, who plays a pivotal role in the film, started a #ReleaseJoyland crusade. “There’s a paid smear campaign doing the rounds against Joyland, a film that made history for Pakistani cinema, got passed by all censor boards, but now authorities are caving into pressure from some malicious people who have not even seen the film,” she tweeted.

“Shameful that a Pakistani film made by 200 Pakistanis over 6 years that got standing ovations from Toronto to Cairo to Cannes is being hindered in its own country. Don’t take away this moment of pride and joy from our people! No one’s forcing anyone to watch it! So don’t force anyone to not watch it either! Pakistani viewers are smart enough to know what they want to watch or not. Let Pakistanis decide! Don’t insult...our hard work!”

The Pakistani filmmaking community is upset at the ban. “Why are films that are honest depictions of the devastation of patriarchy banned while films that perpetuate patriarchy celebrated? My heart weeps for the artistes in the country,” asked Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Arshad Khan.

The immediate concern is the chance of Joyland, the jury prize winner at the Cannes, at the Oscars now. To qualify in its category, it must be shown in the home country. There is this thought that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might accept Joyland because the film did get the censor certificate and the producers had intentions to release it.

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The New Indian Express