Joyless lens

Published November 16, 2022

IT is quite a flamboyant own goal. Instead of being a source of pride, and indeed, joy for those who long to see Pakistan’s soft power showcased across the world, Joyland is to be mothballed in the country’s hall of shame, sacrificed at the altar of bigotry and hypocrisy.

The internationally acclaimed movie, which tells the story of a married man’s love affair with a trans woman, has won critical acclaim and top awards on the festival circuit, including the prestigious Jury Prize at Cannes.

Pakistanis nearly got to watch it: Joyland was to open in local cinemas this week, but after religious groups and conservative elements denounced the story as “repugnant” and “highly objectionable”, the censor board revoked its earlier go-ahead and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting cancelled the film’s licence.

The ban on Joyland is the latest shameful instance of kowtowing to a pressure group that has arrogated to itself the role of policing a nation’s morality — and lost its humanity in the process.

Read: Thieves of Joy(land)

For life is a many-splendoured thing; it does not follow a single script writ in stone. The capacity to love, and to hate, comes in numerous forms. But while the conservative lobby wants society to put its blinkers on where it comes to love, it has, however, proved quite sanguine about how gender-based and faith-based hatred is manifested in society. Scratch the surface of claims about ‘preserving family values’, and one often finds little more than the desire to shame marginalised and/or comparatively weaker segments of society into silence and negate their experiences.

The censor board should have shown some spine. Instead of using its own earlier good judgement, honed in this same society whose ‘values’ are seemingly imperiled by Joyland, it referenced the “written complaints” it said it had received against the film in its decision to ban it.

Pakistan has a long history of banning artistic, especially cinematic, endeavours for portraying a ‘negative image’ — of the country, of Muslims, of Pakistani culture, of military coups and political leaders, etc. That this pattern continues, and has even intensified in recent years, speaks to a growing paranoia about challenges to the status quo. It is an approach that runs counter to a world connected by social media.

The authorities must be on the right side of history; they should allow our creative talent to flower and give the nation the chance to rejoice in it.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2022

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