Filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar backs Zindagi Tamasha
If we criticize extremist actions in other parts of the world, then we should be able to do the same in Pakistan, argues Pakistani director Mehreen Jabbar, in solidarity with Sarmad Khoosat whose film Zindagi Tamasha could not premiere because of protests from a right-wing fringe group.
“I mean we are no better than the RSS in India where they burn down cinemas, agitate and block releases or any other extremist group anywhere else in the world,” she said. In 2017, a Bollywood film Padmavati was cleared by the censors but only ran after its title was changed to Padmaavat after violent protests from Rajput organisations.
Every time a nation capitulates to extremism, it regresses, Jabbar added. Zindagi Tamasha was not shown in cinemas despite being reviewed twice and being approved by all censor boards. “It was good to go but for some fringe, violent group that protest[ed] without even having seen the film,” she said while talking to SAMAA Digital. “[I]it is expected but unacceptable that they are being given a chance to comment and decide on the future of the film. It set a terrible precedent for what’s to come later.”
Filmmakers such as Jabbar want to protect and expand the space within which controversial topics can be taken up for popular cinema. Her 2008 Ramchand Pakistani won awards for tackling the intersection of several hot button topics: India-Pakistan state responses to people accidentally straying over the border, the caste system (Hindu Dalits) and gender.
Sarmad Khoosat’s film is about a religious cleric-like man who suffers when a video of him dancing at a wedding goes viral. The director and cast were threatened and abused online by supporters of a certain right-wing group and a third review of the film is scheduled next month. “If any film that is deemed inappropriate or if some people of a certain section of society don’t like it, will they be able to preview every film before the release?” asked Jabbar. “Steps like these can really lead to dangerous times.”
The Dobara Phir Se director said that she had seen the trailer and had been looking forward to watching it. “It seems like a film made with a lot of integrity, honesty and about a subject and context that we don’t often see in cinema,” she said. She is a fan of Khoosat’s work and described him as a “pioneer and an inventor,” a bold and true artist. She was upset his and his team’s work is being “questioned and hijacked”.
Khoosat wrote two open letters addressing the prime minister and general citizenry but received little response from government.This dangerous precedent robs the industry of the support it needs. According to Jabbar, films usually come out during Eid, so there is an initial rush and a lot to watch, but there is silence for months after.
“Firstly we need to produce a lot of films and we need to produce a lot of films in all kinds of genres,” she said. “They don’t just need to be the romcoms or high-budget films.”
Small and big budget films should be made, those ranging from Rs20 million to Rs100 million, depending on the story and investor. Volume needs to be produced because cinemas won’t survive given the ban on Bollywood and Hollywood movies. The government has to give the industry a break. “We all have to band together to keep the content coming and this is important because for years our industry was in a mess and had only recently shown signs of promise.”