The Pakistan government has banned the Oscar 2023 contender and internationally acclaimed film, Joyland, which was slated for a nationwide release in theatres on 18 November. Saim Sadiq’s Urdu film celebrates queer love and tackles trans-cis romance in Lahore, but though it was hailed world over, it came under criticism in its own country where it was branded “un-Islamic” by a section of society.
And Pakistan’s censor board—after initially giving Joyland the green signal on 11 November—is now suffering from a case of cold feet.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting claimed it has been receiving complaints that the film contains “highly objectionable material” as the reason for its decision. The film does not conform with the “social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to norms of decency and morality,” stated an order issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Many celebrities and film critics, including the cast of Joyland, as well as members of the LGBTQ community have expressed their anger and disappointment over the government’s decision.
The cast of the film, including Alina Khan, Rasti Farooq, and Abdullah Siddiqui, condemned the government on social media. “They’re doing it again! There are smear campaigns to ban Joyland. We need your support to make sure we don’t let these violent, insensitive, extremists win again,” they wrote. The caste concluded their note saying, “Pakistani artists deserve better. kab tak chalay gi ye gunda gardi? (Till when will this hooliganism continue?”)
Joyland was the first Pakistani film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year where it received a standing ovation. It also won two awards, one of which was the Queer Palm. It later premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and the American Film Institute Festival to rave reviews.
Last week, Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan urged the government to stop the release of Joyland because it promotes “anti-Islam” values.
“It’s a trans love story that has already won the Queer Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival and has been lauded for the LGBT themes it explores. This is nothing short of an anti-Islamic attack on the institutions of Nikah and marriage. The Information Ministry must immediately stop the film from releasing in Pakistan,” said Ahmed
It is worth noting that the film’s approval by the censor board has been withdrawn after it was initially approved. The film had been certified to release by all censor boards with some changes. “If the content of this letter (by the ministry of I&B) is indeed executed then it would mean that the Federal government is overriding the decision made by the provincial censor boards,” wrote the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune.
Among the many noted film artists who raised their voice against the ban, Osman Khalid Butt, took to Twitter to share his discontent. He said that he is incredibly disheartened to see the authorities have “caved under the pressure of ‘written complaints”. Butt continues, “Can our cinema please, for once, not be held hostage by what seems to be an entirely arbitrary Ordinance? There seems to be no issue with hyperviolence, regressive themes, adult jokes and content, or overt sexualisation onscreen but trans representation is where we draw the line?”
Many Pakistanis have also criticised the fact that the film was banned before it was seen by the majority of the country.
The sensitive topic – homosexuality
The decision has come as a blow to the LGBTQ community which is one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.
In a patriarchal family, The Ranas, a joyless father (played by Salmaan Peerzada) controls the family from his wheelchair. Set in Lahore, Haider–played by Ali Junejo–faces various pressures from his father. Haider is married to Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), who is forced to be a housewife owing to the family’s patriarchal demands.
But the tale turns upside down when Haider falls in love with a transgender dancer Biba (Alina Khan) when he is hired by a dance troupe. Mumtaz herself starts crumbling because her once unemployed husband has now fallen in love with someone else.
But it is the love story of Haider, within the confines of his homophobic family, that unravels many secrets and desires of Rana relatives. The film addresses homophobia sensitively, but the very subject has riled many Pakistanis as homosexuality remains illegal in the country.
(Edited by Tarannum Khan)