Circus of censorship – The News on Sunday

Zindagi Tamasha has become controversial despite the fact that the film has not yet been released, and except the censor board, no one has seen it in full. However, its trailer has brewed a storm and calls have been made to ban the film.

Sarmad Khoosat, one of our most creative directors, has been running from pillar-to-post to make sense of his films treatment. He has even written to the prime minister, to explain the reality of the situation. Obviously, there was no satisfactory response which only added to his fears; that his effort and time will have been wasted, as the film would not be screened publically, according to schedule.

This is yet another example of shrinking space and the narrowing of avenues where and through which ideas can be expressed, aired and then become subjects of debate. There is a vast difference between a debate and a controversy; a debate is an invitation to join in stretching the canvas upon which ideas can be explored; while controversy is the first step towards inciting violence. It is a death knell to the freedoms that we cherish so much in contemporary times.

Really, this is the issue. Decisions are being made in areas where they are not supposed to be made. The forum which determines the acceptability of a film for public display, is the censor board. Due to the devolution of powers to provinces, there is one small and ineffective board at the centre, while each province has its own.

As the central board and two provincial boards had cleared the film for public viewing, far-right parties such as the Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan, took the matter to the streets and alleged that the film contained blasphemous material. The threat of mob violence and country-wide protests was given. Voices are raised for the film to be banned and not screened; in fear of a violent backlash. The only threat that matters in Pakistan, is of mob violence and resultantly the prevalence of mob justice. Unfortunately, this is becoming the new-normal that no-one can deny; institutions are made ineffective, as they are not allowed to function, under threat of mob rule. Decisions taken by relevant forums too, are under the ominous shadow of street power at times.

Khoosat is a highly creative person, who deserves credit for standing up for his work and what he wants to achieve, let us all stand by his side. Such censorial steps will deter other filmmakers who may not be made from material as resilient as Khoosat.

It is making the current system ineffective, powerless and emasculating the civil structure, so that it either fails to make decisions, or does so under duress. For a number of decades, our society has been characterised by fear ruling us, rather than reason or logic.

After bright spots of hope, the same pall of darkness spreads, with greater intensity and desire to kill all freedoms, especially the freedom to hold and express ones opinion fearlessly. Such hope is perceived as a dangerous sign, which is reason enough to snuff it out by demonising it either in the name of religion, patriotism or corruption.

It appears now that the matter is being referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). May I ask; what is the film about religion or human beings? The proper study of mankind is man; all art is about human beings because it revolves round us. Has the CII taken over or is seen as a substitution for the Censor Board? Is the next step the knocking at the doors of the Organisation of Islamic operation, for the fear of it being detrimental to the common image of the Ummah? This may as well be invoked

Initially, technical objections were raised; that the censor board was not in full attendance when the film was approved, hence it was not certified by all members. However, this is how it is supposed to be, as it is the quorum that is supposed to rule and not all members. It was only that rules and regulations were being followed and no violation or bulldozing of the general opinion took place.

There is a negative and general tendency, where if the final outcome is not favourable, than rules and laws pertaining to the matter are changed, or there is an inclination to find faults with the current rules and laws. There is greater urge to have it approved or disapproved by a higher tier, even if it does not fall within its purview. This general tendency is apparent in bureaucracy, judiciary and government hierarchies which has actually resulted in a heavy centralization of authority. Everything ends up being decided at the top, and lower tiers are made to abdicate their powers.

Films are hardly made in this country and there has been a great effort at reviving the film industry, the few films that are made, are seen as signs of that revival. But such hypersensitive measures which do not allow authorised bodies to function, can never be conducive in creating an environment where art can exist, let alone thrive. It will take a sinister turn and end up being an underground activity. What is needed most is an environment which nourishes various art forms, alongside an essential factor a space where one can breathe freely.

Khoosat is a highly creative person, who deserves credit for standing up for his work and what he wants to achieve, let us all stand by his side. Such censorial steps will deter other filmmakers who may not be made from material as resilient as Khoosat, and move abroad to more favourable climes to express themselves for we have seen so many do exactly that.

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Circus of censorship - The News on Sunday

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