When Sarmad Sultan Khoosat decided to make a film and choose Zindagi Tamasha as the name of that film-he never thought that the release of his film will become a Tamasha (circus). He announced to release his film on January 24-2020. The Central Censor Board and provincial ones approved the film to be screened across Pakistan.
But film landed in trouble as one religious group led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi strongly reacted after the release of trailer of the film. The Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) strongly objected to the film on the basis that it is an effort to defame Naatkhwani and Islam.
This group believed that Naatkhwani is a sacred profession and couldn’t be maligned. The group believed that religious people have been maligned and painted negative perception about them in the film. Every effort has been made to satisfy the leadership of this group but nothing has worked so far.
The Zindagi Tamasha controversy also indicates that the TLP has not lost its influence in the society and with the state institutions. The Tehrik is the major complainant against theme and dialogues of the film.
An official of the censor board told the media that “we have received dozens of complaints by religious groups against the film but TLP was the first to move against it. We were left with no other option except referring the issue to the government to avoid chaos in the society. The complainants are powerful and can cripple the country by blocking the streets, we fear.”
The group says that the they have also moved an application against Khoosat directed film as it contains objectionable dialogues and the story revolves around religious persons. “Now, we are waiting for the opinion of the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII). We hope that the CII will not allow exhibition of the film. Otherwise, we have other options like moving courts.” TLP also threatened to launch country wide protests if film allowed in cinemas.
Filmmaker Khoosat has said in a social media message that the film is not meant to hurt anybody. He has also said that he has been receiving threatening messages.
The religious group has declared this film as “blasphemous”. The TLP said that the film “might lead [people] to deviate from Islam and the prophet,” with officials warning screening it could lead to unrest.
The PTI governments in centre and Punjab and PPP government in Sindh succumbed to the pressure from religious hardliners and obliged their wish and demand to stop the screening of the film. The federal government now decided to send the film to Islamic Ideology Council (IIC) to review it. The film was planned to release on January 24 after the clearance from Censor boards. The screening of film has been stopped because one religious group is opposing and considers it against their views.
How strange it is that government appointed Censor board approved the film to be released but a religious group forced the government to reverse the decision. This trend is disturbing. It shows that intolerance is on the rise. The threat of using violence from a religious group is undemocratic- against the law and constitution and challenges the writ of the state.
How the state and government can allow a certain group to impose its liking and disliking on the society. The religious groups-organisations and political parties use the religion to suppress the liberal and progressive voices. But that is what is happening in last 40 years. It shows the level of intolerance.
We haven’t learned the lessons from past mistakes. We continue to use religion as tool to gain political advantage. We haven’t given up our habit to develop and promote religious groups to serve the political interests of the establishment. TLP was supported and promoted to dent the religious support base of PML-N in Punjab. TLP got 2.3 million votes in General election 2018. It served the interests of the powerful establishment but now become a problem.
The religious right wants to establish its own writ on the religious and social issues. They want to keep their grip and monopoly over religious issues and certain social issues. They are not ready to allow even the parliament to debate certain issue. General Zia during his military regime outsourced the religious matters to religious right. Since then they develop this tradition to impose their reactionary and rightwing views on the society. The state continues to help them.
Our Prime Minister and other leaders love to point finger at India for promoting extreme rightwing Fascist ideology of RSS. Our Prime Minister misses no opportunity to mention the rise of Hindu fascist ideology and Hindutva. We love to discuss the dangers that fascist extreme rightwing ideology pose to India. But we like to remain silent on the issue of religious extremism and bigotry in our own country.
We loved every voice that challenge the hatred and intolerance exuded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi but ignore our own messengers of hate and intolerance. The intolerance is going unchecked in Pakistan.
If one has any objections to the content of Zindagi Tamasha, then raise them vocally. Its ones right. One has the right to campaign against the film if one considers it offensive but one has no right to forcibly stop the screening of the film. That is what RSS is doing in India.
The religious groups openly impose their views and ideas on the society. We succumbed to the pressure of religious hardline groups. Our Prime Minister point finger at RSS but prefers to remain silent on home front.
The decision by the board comes even as the director, Sarmad Khoosat, has repeatedly insisted that “upon completion, the film was cleared by all three censor boards of Pakistan and had its world premiere at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival.”
The film’s director said he never intended to offend anyone. “Don’t spew hate, fear and anger in the name of religion.” The Sarmad Khoosat has complained that he has been threatened and harassed. This is not a good sign. The controversy over the film has again revealed the deep divisions in Pakistani society as religious groups have grown more vocal in recent years.
Made an independent commission of experts and religious scholars to review the film and if it found anything objectionable that could be censored. It is beyond my thought that why powerful religious right is so afraid of a film. Let it be released and let the people of Pakistan decide. If this film is going to be banned then it will set a dangerous precedent to follow in the future. The government should take an independent decision without taking pressure from TLP and other groups.
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17 November, 2019