A Pakistani film that was banned by the government for its alleged blasphemous content is the country’s official entry for the Oscars 2021.
Zindagi Tamasha(Circle of Life), produced by Sarmad Khoosat, was banned last year after the hardline Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) workers vowed to hold a countrywide protest against its screening. However, the movie which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last year is now Pakistan’s official entry to the Academy Awards.
The film had passed the censor board certifications but, it ran afoul with the fundamentalist groups, including Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), which objected to the film on account of its blasphemous nature. The far-right extremist group alleged that the movie would lead people to deviate from the teachings of Islam and the Prophet.
Zindagi Tamasha continues to remain banned in Pakistan
The movie, Zindagi Tamasha, revolves around a patriarch(Arif Hassan) whose single act of self-expression causes cataclysmic damage on the lives of his immediate family. Sarmad Khoosat, one of the two producers of the movie revealed that the inspiration for the film came from a real-life incident where the prevalent political discourse regulate and control one’s private passions.
The trailer of the movie shows a Muslim man, who writes hymns extolling the Prophet, being banished from society and subjected to humiliation after a video of him dancing to a popular song becomes viral. After his video of dancing goes viral, he is condemned by society. People stop inviting him to sing naats. They even spit at him or stop him for selfies after the video leak. The story is inspired by the story of a real-life man whose video of dancing to Punjabi song was leaked after which he was forced to submit an apology.
Set to release in January 2020, the movie’s trailer triggered an angry reaction from fundamentalists and the release date of the movie kept getting delayed amidst a series of protests, open letters and multiple reviews by the Pakistani censor boards. In July 2020, Pakistan’s Senate Committee for Human Rights approved the release of the film, but the decision got stuck in a legal battle. The movie continues to remain banned in Pakistan and the creators of the movie have expressed disappointment that the movie remains unavailable for the local audience, for which the movie was made.
Makers of the movie receive death threats for making a ‘blasphemous’ movie
Khoosat, one of the producers of Zindagi Tamasha, has been a toast of Pakistan’s entertainment industry. He directed popular TV Drama Humsafar with actor Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan in the lead. He has also acted in dramas and films in Pakistan. In 2018, he delivered a 24-hour-long live act, ‘No Time To Sleep’, performing the last 24 hours of a death row prisoner’s life, a rendition which earned him critical appreciation.
However, despite his soaring popularity, Mr Khoosat received a barrage of threat for venturing to make a movie on what was deemed as blasphemous according to the fundamentalists. Mr Khoosat’s phone number was leaked, he faced death threats and photos of decapitated heads on his phone. One religious leader even went on to say that the film would be released over his dead body.
Another maker of the movie, Kanwal Khoosat, is not cowed down by the threats he has been receiving. On the contrary, it has only emboldened his faith in the power of the arts. “All the heartache that Zindagi Tamasha gave me has somehow restored my faith in the power of art too: the sheer, almost physical power of art to make life imitate it. This announcement, for me, is a very bright light shining at the end of this dark tunnel of a year,” Kanwal Khoosat, co-producer of the film, was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.