Film censorship

November 16, 2017


THERE is no shortage of text in Pakistan’s rulebooks that can arbitrarily be used to try and control information, even hijack narrative.

From vague clauses about the ‘national interest’ to directives about how ‘institutions’ can be discussed, these are often brought into play to mask what are attempts at outright censorship.

It is especially cultural narrative that finds itself in the cross hairs of a myopic bureaucracy with an unnecessarily thin skin.

The latest example of this is the Shoaib Mansoor film Verna, which on Tuesday was banned by the Central Board of Film Censors in Islamabad.

While such a decision is not considered binding on all the provinces, given that the subject has been devolved, and Punjab and Sindh have their own, independently functioning censor boards, the fact is that such pressure from the centre can — and does — have an effect.

From various quarters, the vow came that the film would be allowed to play.

While a full board meeting of the CBFC last night apparently decided to revoke the ban, the movie can only be screened with cuts, another name for censorship.

In any movie, if certain scenes are not suitable for audiences of a given age, screening certificates carry an age-advisory clause.

However, the greater question here is, what can there be in narrative fiction, created and produced for mass distribution in a country such as Pakistan (the cultural likes and dislikes of which are well known), that lead to efforts to censor and restrict; fiction by definition lies in the realm of the imagination.

Those in positions of administrative power in Pakistan like to delude themselves that it is their responsibility to decide what citizens may or may not consider suitable, and take decisions accordingly.

In truth, the people have the right to vote with their feet; it ought to be up to them to decide.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2017