The Zindagi Tamasha Affair: The Spectacle of Blackmail by Blasphemy Censorship

Source: Khoosat Films

Filmmaker and free speech hero Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who is arguably the most brilliant filmmaking mind in Pakistan, has just announced the release of his film “Zindagi Tamasha.” The film, perhaps controversially, portrays a naatkhwaan or a hymn reciter, played by Arif Ali, with a compromised reputation due to a sexually explicit leaked video as evident from the trailer. Nobody has watched the film yet, with its clearly fascinating story and stunning imagery and poster graphic design, such as the religious protagonist wearing a dupatta, a feminine article of clothing, but it has already hit a roadblock.

It was clear from the very beginning that the film was testing the waters of acceptance and free speech in Pakistan. The film has been passed by the Censor Board but not without event. According to Sarmad in one of the “meet and greet events” of the film, only curse words are bleeped while no line has been cut. However, his initial trailer had to be taken down and cut from the new trailer version. The earlier trailer had an ingenious shot of children on the swings chanting “Labaik Ya Rasoolullah,” revered by the Barelvi/TLP.

The recently emerged but notoriously nasty Tehreek Labaik Pakistan, a Barelvi anti-blasphemy and group headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has announced countrywide protests against the film on January 22 as it allegedly “mocks Islamic values.” The film trailer has certain lines that allude to religious clerics committing sodomy and abusing young boys, while at another place, it shows perhaps a Barelvi cleric threatening the protagonist with a blasphemy threat.

Source: Khoosat Films

Sarmad Sultan Khoosat is a brave filmmaker who has made bold films such as “Manto” about the controversial Urdu author. However, this episode is apparently even too much for him. Sarmad has been receiving threatening calls and messages, asking him to cancel the release of the film and warning about dire results. Sarmad, being the sensitive and peaceful artist that he is, is now considering canceling the release of the film. He has been forced to cancel the promotion events of the film in Karachi.

 

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In an open letter heavy with disappointment, Sarmad explained how the film was much more than a film for him, on which he had dedicated two years of his life and perhaps his entire career spending. The film that has won Kim Ji-Seok Award at the Busan International Film Festival, is surely not one that can be dismissed as a mediocre effort. However, it appears that theocratic thuggery is more important in this society than an artist’s statement.

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It is indeed a new low for the state of free speech in the country that a religious fundamentalist group is now hijacking the release of a motion picture. It is indeed a direct consequence of the deep state sponsoring and enabling religious fundamentalism for years, despite the recent crackdown against the TLP.

Source: Sadia Nazir

However, the genie of Islamic fundamentalism is out of the lamp, and it probably can only be undone with drastic and authoritarian measures, which will surely seem unfair and counter to religious freedom to most. However,

Every Pakistani who claims to uphold the arts and should be ashamed of it.

As of today, the censor film board has invited the members of the TLP and the government to the screening of the film for review again and the release of the film has been postponed. Let us just hope that the audiences in Pakistan get to watch at least a part of this milestone film made specifically for them.

The fate of Zindagi Tamasha hangs in the balance. Nobody is sure about the release, not even the filmmakers. But if you can be sure of one fact, it’s that Pakistani cinema audiences will be missing a great treat under heavy censorship which has no reason to be in this day and age.

With attitudes such as this, it makes you wonder if Pakistan deserves a “revival of cinema” at all. All we deserve and need are military produced shitfests and Mullah-approved scripts.

Feature Documentary Indus Blues Wins Two Major Awards at Jaipur International Film Festival

Source: JIFF

My team’s feature documentary Indus Blues has won arguably its biggest honor yet. The film won “Best Documentary Feature” and “Best Cinematography Award” at the 11th Jaipur International Film Festival earlier this January. The film was screened in the festival on the evening of January 21 at Golcha Cinema in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

The screening of the film was particularly important because of the rich cultural ties of the Merwari musical tradition across the border of India and Pakistan, which the film celebrates in its unique manner. Even though unfortunately none of us could attend the festival but we strongly believed that it would strike a chord with the audience of the festival.

Other than the Best Documentary Feature Award, the film also managed to make a mark in the cinematography category. Usually, documentaries are not really noticed for their cinematography but the brilliant work in this film by Director of Photography Asmat Bashir has turned each frame into a work of art. And of course, the imagery of the film would be incomplete without the aerial cinematography by Muhammad Qadeer.

Source: Bipolar Films/Indus Blues

It was the moment the entire Indus Blues team was anticipating. When the awards for the 11th edition of the festival were finally announced, we knew that it was a big deal. We had won a few other awards as well, but this one was really special not only because it was coming from a great regional festival but especially because it came from across the border. This is truly a recognition of the difference the film has made to independent cinema in Pakistan.

Indus Blues is a 76-minute documentary that narrates the state and plight of the folk musicians and craftsmen of cultures across the Indus in their own voice. Shot in all major geographical and ethnic regions of Pakistan, the film covers 9 musical instruments with an ensemble of both folk musicians and craftsmen. The film is different in the sense that it also features musical craftsmen, a community that has been hardly ever covered by news media, let alone by documentary filmmakers. The film makes you realize that we are about to lose a cultural treasure by showcasing some of its memorable performances featuring fol

Source: Jawad Sharif

I am very glad that the film has received a very positive response and that people appear to have an appetite to enjoy a film about folk music. I strongly believe that the film even has commercial distribution potential but it is unfortunate that film producers in Pakistan usually do not have that kind of leaning. I only hope that Indus Blues finds an avenue where it is able to make a greater impact and becomes reachable to more and more people around the world.

I would like to thank Director and Producer Jawad Sharif and Creative Producer Arieb Azhar, without whose vision the film would not be possible, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this project. I, along with the entire team, sincerely hope that the project goes a long way in promoting awareness about the folk musicians and craftsmen across Pakistan.

The Pakistan premiere of the film is expected very soon too.