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.

A Moment of Silence for a Nation Without Conscience

Source: Sky News

The final verdict has finally been delivered on Asia Bibi case, or so we think. It has finally been established by the highest court of the land that the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy around 8 years ago in an obscure Punjab village was innocent of any of the allegations. Interestingly enough, it was not Asia Bibi but the moral conscience of the entire nation which was on trial. All I can have is just a moment of silence for those who would have done anything to see her hang and are now silent in retreat. Just imagine if they would have been successful in hanging her.

We have seen some of the most disgusting and vile displays of brutality with which certain circles of the society have reacted to her case. While this case was far from the only instance where this trend has been observed, the case has effectively established how the cult of the Prophet in Pakistan has gone totally out of control. This case resulted in the murder of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was the only politician in the country who had the courage to defend her publicly. He was gunned down by his Barelvi guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was widely celebrated by the followers of the cult of the Prophet. It was partially this case that actually became the basis of the rise of arguably one of the craziest political movements in the country. The extremist Barelvi party called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah or Tehreek Labaik Pakistan.

Fully backed by the Pakistani deep state to put the then popular PML-N of Nawaz Sharif out of power, the recent law enforcement operation against it could lead you to believe that they are a fringe group. This catchy yet vile anthem of the political party offers an insight into the mindset of a Tehreek Labaik Pakistan voter. There are dozens of fan uploads in which you can see the noose next to Asia Bibi’s photograph.

As a matter of fact, the line in this song about hanging Asia Bibi was covered by dozens of young boys and girls for a mobile video sharing platform. These indeed are no extremist clerics but regular, fun-loving, otherwise peaceful Pakistani Muslims whose conscience bears no guilt over this vulgar display of religious righteousness.

Today, many liberal optimists in Pakistan are saying that justice has been served by the eventual Supreme Court ruling by Justice Khosa. But before making such rosy statements, it must be appreciated how Asia Bibi had been ordered to hang to death even by the high court and the lower courts and how the entire nation had been out of her blood on the streets. Even the expression mass hysteria does not capture the violence and evil in this case. But perhaps they are right, even this ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of a miracle.

These are shocking realities that the Pakistani people are not willing to face. Until they address the darkness in their hearts which is at the center of their religious beliefs, until they abolish the atrocious blasphemy law, and until they are not willing to adopt a Secular Constitution, cases like Asia Bibi will keep on surfacing.

All we can hope is for them to surface instead of swept under the carpet.