Renowned Pakistani filmmaker and actor Sarmad Khoosat faces constant threats to stop the premiere of his film Zindagi Tamasha (Circus of Life) in Pakistan. Even after announcing that the film will no longer be released and canceling the premiere in Pakistan, personal threats against it are not reduced.
“Zindagi Tamasha” premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, where he won the Kim Ji-seok award. The story of this bilingual film revolves around Naat Khwan Rahat Khawaja (Arif Hassan), a devout Muslim who writes, composes and even records hymns of praise to the Prophet. As the movie progresses, Khawaja and his family are excluded from society when Khawaja's dark secret is made public. According to the official synopsis, the film is a “burning political commentary on little gods on this earth that watch over our private passions.” The film is considered to imply the misuse of religious laws in Pakistan.
#ZindagiTamasha by @KhoosatSarmad, is Pakistan's first film to win the prestigious Kim-Ji-Seok award at the Busan Film Festival. A different yet unique film addressing topics such as gender stereotypes, queer representation, child molestation & religious beliefs
Release: 24 Jan pic.twitter.com/c6uMKorejV
– Effie⁷ (@rm_fishcakes) January 15, 2020
“Zindagi Tamasha” from Sarmad Khoosa, is Pakistan's first film to win the prestigious Kim-Ji-Seok award at the Busan Film Festival. A unique but different film that addresses issues such as gender stereotypes, gay representation, child abuse and religious beliefs.
Premiere: January 24.
Despite having spent three Pakistani censorship meetings, a section of conservatives in Pakistan, especially the far right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), states that this film is anti-Islamic for its representation of Khawaja. The TLP announced a nationwide protest on January 22, 2020 against the film because “it erroneously portrayed those who recite hymns of praise to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).”
– Copy Paste (@copypasteOff) January 18, 2020
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has announced nationwide protests on January 22 against the upcoming Sarmad Khoosat film, “Zindagi Tamasha“For alleged blasphemies.
In a letter from the Board of Censors of the province of Sindh, which was disseminated on Twitter, it is mentioned that the Board has imposed restrictions on the screening of the film to the public, since “it can create disturbances in the religious segment of society and it can deteriorate and be detrimental to the peaceful circumstances of the country. ”
Not banned But reecomeneded for a 3rd review after being certified. Perhaps setting the ground for a ban https://t.co/neQXB1X2pA
– Rafay Mahmood (@Rafay_Mahmood) January 21, 2020
Sindh becomes the first province to ban Zindagi Tamasha. What a shame on the part of the Government of Sindh by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
They did not ban it, they have recommended it for a third review after being certified. Maybe set grounds for a ban.
Under constant threats
Following the objection of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Sarmad received a massive online abuse and his personal data such as identification and telephone number were disseminated online. Global Voices spoke with a digital rights organization that mentioned that they had reported and complained to Twitter about the Tuts published with Sarmad's personal information.
On January 16, Sarmad wrote an open letter to Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi to ask for his support for the premiere of his film. He wrote of the intimidation he and his team suffer, despite the fact that the Pakistan Censor Board approved its film for its nationwide premiere:
میں بھی پاکستان ہوں
An open letter to:@ImranKhanPTI@ArifAlvi #Chiefjusticeofpakistan #Chiefofthearmystaffpakiatan#ministerofinformationpakistan@DanyalGilani #censorboardofpakistan #ZindagiTamasha #pakistanicinema pic.twitter.com/D10lS1V1gw
– Sarmad Khoosat (@KhoosatSarmad) January 16, 2020
Open letter to Imran Khan.
“It’s a story about a‘ good enough Muslim ’- there was / is no mention of a sect, party or faction of any sort. Neither in the uncensored version nor the censored one. If a bearded man is to be generically called a molvi (cleric), then trust me, this is / was a film about a good molvi (cleric). An empathetic and heartfelt story of a bearded man who is so much more than just that. He is a human being portrayed through a very humane eye. Well, forget it! ”
It's a story about a “good enough Muslim” – there was no mention of sect, party or faction of any kind. Neither in the uncensored version nor in the censored version. If a man with a beard should be generically called a molvi (cleric), then trust me, this is / was a film about a good molvi (cleric). An empathetic and felt story of a bearded man who is much more than that. It is a human being portrayed through a very human eye. Well, forget it!
The synopsis of the movie was also removed from YouTube the last week of December 2019 after some users disagreed with the content of the video. Khoosat Films then issued a statement:
Khoosat Films took down the trailer from YouTube themselves. A trailer is just a tiny part of the entire film, there's no context so a few people had some issues regarding the content of that clip and we took that into account. After minor tweaks, we'll reupload it soon enough.
The same Khoosat Films removed the synopsis of YouTube. A synopsis is a minimal part of the whole movie, there is no context, so some had problems regarding the content of that video and we took it into account. After minor adjustments, we will publish it again soon.
The revised synopsis of the film (in Urdu) is now online.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3zwLrr9TKE (/ embed)
Under immense pressure, Sarmad Khoosat decided to stop the release of his film in Pakistan.
Getting dozens of threatening phone calls and msgs. Should I withdraw Zindagi Tamasha? pic.twitter.com/OJB396B1xq
– Sarmad Khoosat (@KhoosatSarmad) January 19, 2020
I am receiving dozens of threatening calls and phone messages. Should I remove Zindagi Tamasha?
However, after canceling the national premiere of his film the online trolley against Sarmad did not stop. There are continuous calls in Twitter to join the filmmaker and his team to stop the movie. These accounts are continually qualifying the film as anti-Islamist and blasphemous without citing exactly why. Posters are spreading and protest calls are still being made on social media to ban this movie even though the filmmaker has already canceled its premiere in Pakistan.
this whole zindagi tamasha debacle is another reminder of how helpless and frustrating it is to be a common citizen in this country. they're holding a film hostage for all the wrong reasons and there's nothing we can do about it.
– Faizan. (@merabichrayaar) January 19, 2020
This whole debacle of Zindagi Tamasha is another reminder of how useless and frustrating it is to be an ordinary citizen in this country. They have a hostage movie for the wrong reasons and there is nothing we can do about it.
Update: Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) announced that it would postpone the protests scheduled for January 22, 2020 in response to the decision of the Governments of Sindh and Punjab to block the premiere of the movie “Zindagi Tamasha.”