- The filmmakers slammed the government’s decision, calling it “unconstitutional and illegal.”
Pakistan has banned Saim Sadiq’s “Joyland,” the country’s entry for the Oscars’ international feature film category. The country’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting reversed its decision on Nov. 11, a week before its theatrical release, reversing its earlier decision to clear the film for a theatrical release. Sadiq, who wrote and directed the film, slammed the government’s decision, calling it “unconstitutional and illegal.”
In an Instagram post, Sadiq mentioned that the “film got seen and certified by all three censor boards in August 2022,” and noted that “the 18th amendment in the Pakistani constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decision. Yet the Ministry suddenly caved under pressure from a few extremist factions – who have not seen the film – and made a mockery of our federal censor board by rendering their decision irrelevant.” For a film to qualify for this section of the Oscars, it needs to play in theaters in its own country for at least a week.
“Joyland” is described as “a bittersweet tale of repressed desire and the quest for individual freedom.” It follows a patriarchal family as they yearn for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and falls for a trans woman, according to the film’s synopsis. The film explores a whole family, presenting a picture of a clan torn between modernity and tradition in contemporary Lahore.
Haider Rana (Ali Junejo), a quiet, unemployed husband to a vociferous, employed wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), has a seemingly happy arranged marriage and ordered family life, living under the same roof as the rest of the Rana clan. Amidst pressure and ridicule from his father, Haider finds work as a backup dancer for the trans performer Biba (Alina Khan), opening his eyes to another way to love — and another way of life. Mumtaz, meanwhile, is frustrated with the expectations of a patriarchal society. Soon their desires collide, forcing them and their family to reckon with what has been buried for so long.
Pakistan newspaper Dawn reported that the ministry canceled the film’s exhibition license on Nov. 11, a week before its Nov. 18 release. According to the report, the Central Board of Film Censors “the film contains highly objectionable material which does 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.”
According to an Associated Press report, “the on-screen relationship between two characters has angered some conservatives for weeks in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where transgender people are considered outcasts by many despite some progress on transgender rights.” Mobashir Hasan, the Pakistani government’s principal information officer, told the AP that the film is “uncertified,” so it is “barred from screening in cinemas under the jurisdiction of a central censor board.”
Adapted from Sadiq’s award-winning short “Darling,” the film had its world premiere at Cannes earlier this year, becoming the first-ever film from the subcontinent to receive an award in the Un Certain Regard. It also won the jury prize and the Queer Palm. The film also screened at the Zurich Film Festival in May, and had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.
“Joyland” is co-produced with Pakistani filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat and Apoorva Guru Charan, a classmate of Sadiq’s from Columbia University where he got his MFA, and Lauren Mann. Executive producers are Ramin Bahrani, William Olsson, Jen Goyne Blake, Tiffany Boyle, Elsa Ramo, Oleg Dubson, Kathrin Lohmann, Hari Charana Prasad, Sukanya Puvvula and Owais Ahmed.
Another recent film, Pakistani American filmmaker Parveen Bilal’s “I’ll See You There,” was also rejected by the CBFC a week before its release in Pakistan,” as reported by the Dawn newspaper. The board said the film “does not reflect true Pakistani culture, portrays a negative image of Muslims” and is against the “social and cultural values of Pakistan,” the report said.
The film is a moving portrayal of an estranged family trying to reconnect with each other. The domestic drama follows three generations of a Pakistani American family living in Chicago, in a largely Pakistani immigrant community.
It tells the story of Majeed (Faran Tahir) a widowed cop, raising a teenage daughter on his own. His daughter, Dua (Nikita Tewani) is an aspiring ballerina and is in line to go to Juilliard. Dua also teaches dance therapy at a senior center run by family friend Shonali aunty (Sheetal Seth), whose tentative romance with her father is on hold. And to complicate matters further – Dua, unbeknownst to her father, is learning Kathak, a dance style her mother used to perform, from Shonali. Used to being a teenager in America, not shackled by the rigorous expectations of her religion, Dua must hide her lifestyle choices from her beloved but judgmental grandfather. Dua, her widowed cop father and her grandfather, who arrive unannounced from Karachi after a 12-year estrangement, spark collisions between the past and present, and faith and freedom, making up the framework of this film.