Pakistan has banned Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, the country’s entry in the Oscars international feature film category. The country’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting reversed its decision on November 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, criticized the government’s decision, calling it “unconstitutional and illegal”.
In an Instagram post, Sadiq mentioned that the “film was seen and certified by all three censorship boards in August 2022,” noting that “The 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution gives all provinces autonomy to make their own decision.” But the Department suddenly relented under pressure from some extremist factions – who haven’t seen the film – and poked fun at our federal censorship board by making their decision irrelevant.” For a film to qualify for this section of the Oscars, it must at least run for a week in the cinemas of his own country.
“Joyland” is described as “a bittersweet tale of suppressed desire and the search for individual freedom.” It follows a patriarchal family longing for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and, according to the film’s synopsis, falls in love with a trans woman. The film explores an entire family and paints the picture of a clan torn between modernity and tradition in present-day Lahore.
Haider Rana (Ali Junejo), a quiet, unemployed husband of a loud, professional wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), has a seemingly happily arranged marriage and family life, and lives under the same roof as the rest of the Rana clan. Under pressure and taunts from his father, Haider finds work as a backup dancer for trans performer Biba (Alina Khan) and opens his eyes to a different way of loving — and a different way of living. Mumtaz, on the other hand, is frustrated by the expectations of a patriarchal society. Soon her desires collide, forcing her and her family to reckon with what was buried for so long.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that the ministry canceled the film’s exhibition license on November 11, a week before its November 18 release. According to the Central Board of Film Censors report, “The film contains highly objectionable material that is inconsistent with the social values and moral standards of our society and clearly violates the norms of decency and morality as set out in Section 9 of the film the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979.”
According to a report by the Associated Press, “The on-screen relationship between two characters has angered some conservatives for weeks in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where, despite some progress on transgender rights, transgender people are viewed by many as outcasts.” Mobashir Hasan, the Pakistani government’s chief information officer, the AP said the film was “uncertified” and “may not be shown in theaters under the jurisdiction of a central censorship board.”
The film, based on Sadiq’s award-winning short Darling, had its world premiere at Cannes earlier this year, becoming the subcontinent’s first film to win an Un Certain Regard award. 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” was co-produced with Pakistani filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat and Apoorva Guru Charan, a classmate of Sadiq from Columbia University where he received 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,” Dawn newspaper reported. The board said the film “does not reflect true Pakistani culture, portrays a negative image of Muslims” and violates “Pakistan’s social and cultural values,” the report said.
The film is a moving portrayal of an estranged family trying to reunite. The domestic drama follows three generations of a Pakistani-American family living in Chicago in a mostly Pakistani immigrant community.
It tells the story of Majeed (Faran Tahir), a widowed police officer who is raising a teenage daughter alone. His daughter Dua (Nikita Tewani) is an aspiring ballerina and attends the Juilliard School. Dua also teaches dance therapy at a senior center run by Aunt Shonali (Sheetal Seth), a family friend whose preliminary romance with her father is on hold. And to complicate things even more – Dua learns Kathak, a dance style her mother used to perform, from Shonali without her father knowing. Accustomed to being a teenager in America, not bound by the strict expectations of her religion, Dua must hide her lifestyle choices from her beloved but judgmental grandfather. Arriving unannounced from Karachi after 12 years of estrangement, Dua, her widowed policeman father and grandfather, spark collisions between past and present, faith and freedom, and frame this film.