Praised Abroad, Controversial Pakistani Film ‘Joyland’ Banned at Home

LAHORE, Nov. 21 – The local screening of a Pakistan-made film depicting a love affair between a married man and a transgender woman is hanging in limbo after the film was cleared by censors and then the government after pressure from Islamists was banned.

joy landwhich has won awards around the world, including the Cannes Jury Prize, is also Pakistan’s entry for next year’s Oscars.

But it can’t be seen at home unless a censorship review, ordered by a committee after intervention by the Prime Minister, lifts the ban.

The film was due to open in Pakistan this Friday.

“It’s almost like we take two steps back every time we make a little progress,” Kami Sid, a transgender model and activist, told AFP on Wednesday.

“I’m sad for my country, for the industry and most of all for the transgender community.”

Although their rights are said to be protected by law, most transgender Pakistanis are forced to live on the fringes of society – often resorting to begging, dancing at weddings or sex work to survive.

joy land tells the story of the youngest son of a patriarchal Punjabi family who falls in love with a brazen transgender dancer.

Their affair exposes the hypocrisy of relationships in a multi-generational family struggling with sexuality and the clash of tradition and modernity.

The film was cleared by Pakistan’s censorship board in August, but the Ministry of Information banned it last week after objections from right-wing Islamist groups and individuals.

The ministry said it “clearly violated norms of decency and morality,” prompting mockery from the film’s supporters on social media, who speculated officials acted without even seeing the film.

“Serious Injustice”

In a statement, director Saim Sadiq said he was “gutted” by the decision, adding that the film’s directors have “full intentions to raise our voices against this grave injustice”.

Attempts to recognize and protect the rights of transgender Pakistanis have been fiercely opposed by Islamist parties, who say it is a sign that Western values ​​are being attacked.

The ban on joy land follows the frenzied success of The Legend of Maula Jattwhich has already become the highest-grossing Pakistani film in the world since its release last month and is seen by many as the start of a renaissance in local cinema – long eclipsed by the glamorous Bollywood of neighboring India.

joy land is proving a huge hit in India, where it premiered at the Dharamshala International Film Festival last week, with viewers queuing around the block for tickets and additional screenings arranged.

Right-wing Islamist parties have been campaigning for months to change hard-won transgender rights, which include ending discrimination and providing equal access to employment and education.

“We clearly see this ban on the film as a continuation of the attacks on the transgender community,” Shahzadi Rai, a transgender rights activist, told AFP.

“This film was shot in Pakistan about Pakistan and ended up being banned by Pakistan. It’s very upsetting for the transgender community.”

The fate of the film is now back in the hands of the censors after a committee ordered by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asked them to review it.

“The situation remains very uncertain,” said the makers joy land said AFP. — AFP

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