Pakistan bans release of Oscar contender ‘Joyland’ for its ‘objectionable material’

Pakistan bans release of Oscar contender ‘Joyland’ for its ‘objectionable material’

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The government of Pakistan has imposed a ban on the nationwide release of Saim Sadiq’s film Joyland, the country’s official entry at the Oscars 2023 under the international feature category, for containing “highly objectionable” material.

In an order dated November 11, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting stated that the country’s censor board had given green signal to the film on August 17, but it has now reversed the decision.

The film, backed by Khoosat Films, was set to release across Pakistan on November 18. Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed welcomed the government’s decision to ban the film which he said is against Islam.

‘Highly objectionable material’

Ever since Joyland debuted and won the jury prize at the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes in May this year, it has been getting accolades everywhere. It was screening to standing ovation at the BFI London Film Festival in October. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who has joined the film as an executive producer, was present at the screening in London. Earlier this month, it had its India premiere at the 11th edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), where it received overwhelming response.

Joyland at BFI London
The cast and crew of the film, along with Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, executive producer of ‘Joyland’, at the BFI London Film Festival in October.

Joyland also made its way to the Toronto Film Festival in September. On Friday, it won the Asia Pacific Screen Awards’ (APSA) young cinema award, given in partnership with critics’ association Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) and the Griffith Film School, Brisbane (Australia). Sadiq’s directorial debut, it stars Sania Saeed, along with Ali Junejo, Aleena Khan, Sarwat Geelani, Rasti Faruq, Salman Pirzada, and Sohail Samir. It won the Cannes Queer Palm prize for best LGBT, “queer” or feminist-themed movie.

The film revolves around the youngest son of the middle-class, patriarchal Rana family in Lahore. As his family yearns for the birth of a baby boy, Haider secretly joins an erotic dance theater troupe and finds himself falling for Biba, a fiercely ambitious trans starlet. Their love story illuminates the secrets and desires of the entire Rana family.

While the film has received accolades everywhere, it has not gone down well with the conservative sections of Pakistani society. Pakistan’s censor board has been receiving complaints that Joyland contains ‘highly objectionable material.’ The complainants also sought a ban on the nationwide release of Joyland.

Also read: How ‘Joyland,’ Pakistan’s Oscars entry, breaks taboos, tackles homophobia

“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 order states. “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.”

Pakistani celebrities demand release of Joyland

Several Pakistani celebrities have stepped up the demand to release Joyland. The hashtag #ReleaseJoyland is trending on Twitter and the internet users, too, are demanding its release. After the notification of the ban over the film defying “the social norms of Islamic Republic of Pakistan” went viral, Pakistani celebrities took to Twitter to speak up for the release of the movie.

Sarwat Gilani, one of the cast members, criticized the people who are ‘campaigning’ against the movie who have not even watched it yet. She also demanded Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to revoke their decision. In a thread of tweets she wrote, “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 into pressure from some malicious people who have not even seen the film.”

Other notable personalities of Pakistan including Sanam Saeed, Fatima Bhutto, Imran Ahmad Khan, Mira Sethi, Raza Ahmed Rumi and many others also raised voice for the release of the movie.

Tagging Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, well-known Pakistani actress and author Mira Sethi wrote: “Hi @Marriyum_A. The ban on #Joyland makes no sense. (1) You can’t claim to be a democrat but go around banning movies and art! (2) We go on about “showing Pakistan’s positive side”—this movie does exactly that, by putting Pakistani cinema on the world map. #ReleaseJoyland”

After the news of the ban broke out, APSA said in a written statement: “ Joyland’ represents a significant new cinematic talent in Saim Sadiq from Pakistan, who has crafted a moving and entertaining drama about family in his debut feature film. The Young Cinema Award Jury commends Saim Sadiq for his brave and joyous celebration of community diversity and the universality of love.”

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