Sarmad Khoosat’s upcoming film Zindagi Tamasha may have received international recognition, but its fate in Pakistan is still in doldrums. The filmmaker, who has given us masterpieces like Manto (2015) before, posted an open letter on social media, addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan and other authorities in order to shed light on how continuous attempts have been made to stop his film’s release despite being cleared by the Central Board of Film Censors.
In the letter, Sarmad mentioned his contributions to Pakistani cinema and the recognition he has received in return, however he drew attention towards the hurdles being created to stop the release of Zindagi Tamasha.
“Like any other film, made in any part of the world, Zindagi Tamasha is a reflection of its setting. My team and I explored themes around gender constructs, class divisions and complex human experiences. There was never any intention to attack, to point fingers at or humiliate any individual or institution,” he wrote.
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Sarmad, who has been working in the industry for 20 years, clarified that he only wanted to cater to his need for ‘artistic expression’ and the film never intended to hurt any sentiments.
“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,” he pointed out adding, “24th of January was set as the release date. However, a ‘complaint’ was registered against the writer, the producer and myself, based on assumptions made from the two and a half minute long trailer.”
The director went on to say: “As a law-abiding citizen and with full conviction that there is nothing offensive or malicious in the film. In response I submitted the film for another review to the censor board. It was cleared once again with a few cuts to appease the complainants.”
“I launched the promotional campaign and now, just a week before the film’s release, another attempt is being made by the some group to stop the release of the film and this time they are hell-bent on using pressurising tactics,” he wrote.
Sarmad complained that these episodes undermine the authority of Central Board of Film Censors.
“I am bringing this to your notice not just because my team and I are being bullied and pressurised, but also because this series of episodes undermines a state institution like the Central Board of Film Censors and strips it of its authority and stature,” he added.
He concluded the letter with a request: “The space for rational and artistic thinking and expression must not be annexed by a few troublemakers for their political ends but I fear this is what will happen if we buckle under this time. Sincerely, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat.”
Earlier this month, Zindagi Tamasha was taken down from YouTube, however the director later clarified, “I admit that Khoosat Films removed the trailer from its YouTube channel as a few concerns were raised about the content of our film. Unfortunately, we have to condense the subject of a film in a few minutes for the trailer and hence, sometimes it doesn’t reflect the larger picture. There were a few conflicts about some dialogues and after minor deletions the trailer will again be uploaded soon.”
Showcasing the bleak reality of Pakistan’s society, the film narrates the story of Rahat (played by Arif Hassan), a naat khawan who enjoys celebrity status amongst his community in the old city of Lahore. He is a devout Muslim and hence his peers deem it unforgivable when Rahat falters. And then one day a video of him goes viral and even his own daughter, Sadaf (played by Eman Suleman), feels ashamed of him.
Fortunately, Sarmad’s letter has been receiving a lot of support from all quarters. Zindagi Tamasha is slated to release on 24th January. Let’s hope we get to see it on the big screen!