Award-winning movie “Joyland” opens in cinemas in parts of Pakistan Friday, after authorities in the South Asian nation overturned a ban imposed following complaints the homegrown film was unsuitable for viewing.
Directed by Saim Sadiq, “Joyland” tells the love story between the youngest son of “a happily patriarchal joint family” and a transgender starlet he meets after secretly joining an erotic dance theater, according to a synopsis on the Cannes Film Festival website.
The storyline appeared too sensitive for the Pakistani government, which last week revoked the movie’s certification after receiving written complaints that it included “highly objectionable material.”
However, government adviser Salman Sufi tweeted Wednesday that the censor board review committee had subsequently cleared the film, with requested edits, adding: “Freedom of speech is fundamental right & should be nourished within ambits of the law.”
The movie was listed for viewing in some theaters across Pakistan on Friday, except in the province of Punjab, where the Informational and Culture Department said it could not be exhibited “in the wake of persistent complaints received from different quarters.”
As of Thursday evening, the filmmakers had not issued an official statement on the nationwide ban being overturned or the new ban in Punjab.
“Joyland” is the first Pakistani movie to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the unofficial Queer Palm in May. It was then submitted to the Oscars as Pakistan’s official entry for the international feature film award. According to the official Academy rules, it needs to play in theaters for at least seven days before November 30 to qualify for inclusion.
The reversal of the nationwide ban came after public outcry from human rights organizations and prominent Pakistanis including Malala Yousafzai, who is also an executive producer on the film.
In an Instagram post, the movie’s director, Sadiq, urged authorities to reconsider the ban, and one of its stars, Rasti Farooq, said in a post: “I stand by my film, and everything that it says, with every fibre of my being.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a statement Sunday, condemning the government’s withdrawal of certification for “Joyland” as “rabidly transphobic” and a violation of the movie producers’ right to freedom of expression.
“Pakistan’s audiences have the right to decide what they will watch,” the statement said.