By Ghulam Haider
After stirring controversy, the Pakistani authorities have finally decided in principles to lift the ban on the screening of the Oscar 2023-entry ‘Joyland’ after some scenes cut in the movie, and is slated for release nationwide this Friday (November 18).
Salman Sufi, head of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms, said Wednesday that the censors would be lifting a ban on “Joyland,” with some scenes being cut before it is released in country’s cinemas and theatres.
The decision by the authorities comes days after the ban was put in place by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which said it contains ‘highly objectionable material’.
Directed by filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s, the critically-acclaimed film Joyland featuring a love story between a married man and a transgender woman is Pakistan’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards and was a prizewinner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Joyland tells the story of the youngest son of a patriarchal Punjabi family who falls in love with a brash transgender dancer. Their affair exposes the hypocrisy of relationships throughout a multi-generational family struggling with sexuality and the clash of tradition and modernity.
The film story revolves around a cis man from a patriarchal family secretly joining an erotic dance theatre and falling for a trans woman, even as his family wants him to have a baby boy to carry forward the family line. Earlier this year, ‘Joyland’ became the first Pakistani film to win the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
But the movie stirred a controversy in Muslim-majority Pakistan and the state censors last week banned its screening at movie theaters, reversing a previous all-clear for its release.
Despite some progress with a law that protects transgender peoples rights and a landmark Supreme Court ruling designating them as a third gender, majority in Pakistan deem them (transgender people) pariah.
Salman Sufi said that the committee formed to evaluate the movie made the decision to lift the ban on the premier of the film after granting its it approval with minor cuts.
“The decision is a simple yet powerful message that the government stands by freedom of speech and safeguards it, and cannot allow mere smear campaigns or disinformation to be used as choking creative freedom,” Sufi said.
He did not elaborate on which scenes would be cut.
“Transgender people are as much citizens of Pakistan as anyone else,” he said. “We have launched a hotline for their issues as well from the prime minister’s office and the prime minister is fully committed to safeguarding their rights.”
Soon after the ban on the movie was imposed, the director protested against the decision while seeking help from the viewers. The film has received critical acclamation at various film festivals around the world.
The film received screening certification in August earlier this year but it was met with protests and concerns from certain sections of society in Pakistan. The protest led to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to call for a ban on the film stating that the film ‘does not conform with the social values and moral standards of society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of decency and morality.’
Muhammad Tahir Hassan, head of the Central Board of Film Censors, told that ‘there is no hindrance from the board for its screening. The distributors can screen the film from tomorrow morning if they wish.’
The film won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the unofficial Queer Palm at Cannes in May this year. The film has been submitted to the 95th Academy Awards as Pakistan’s official entry for the international feature film award.
As per the Academy, ‘Joyland’ needs to be in cinemas for at least seven days before November 30 to remain a contender.
Joyland marks Saim Sadiq’s directorial debut and stars Sania Saeed, Ali Junejo, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada, and Sohail Sameer in key roles.