In the two and a half minute official trailer of “Zindagi Tamasha” (Circus of Life), I found my heart melting in sympathy at the plight of the protagonist (Arif Hassan), a reciter of religious poems, suffering from ridicule and ostracism at the hands of family and society for a reason I don’t quite know.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has postponed the release of the award winning film over fears of violence after the country’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) said the movie, a “grave test for Muslims” might lead them to deviate from Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The film “Zindagi Tamasha” should be released without bargain and further ado so that artistic freedom and tolerance resurfaces with new vigor in Naya Pakistan.
They topped up the statement with open threats of violent protests and political unrest.
This is not a surprise for me and most of my fellow Pakistanis who have grown up amidst extremist political factions that use violence, nation-wide strikes and killings in the name of religion to influence political agenda.
Artistic expression is the scapegoat that is left cowering behind the door, as shifts of political power decide its fate. Pakistan ranks as one of the top 10th in the world in terms of having the highest social hostilities involving religion, and 151st out of 160 countries in the World Index of Moral Freedom.
Despite it, people like Sarmad Khoosat (the film’s director) commit their life savings to make a film centered around tolerance – a trait I dare say the opponents of this film are bereft of, but cannot deny at the same time. After all, they market themselves as the champions of Islam and Islam is a religion of tolerance.
I am grappling to understand what is offensive in the film’s trailer.
It alludes, in a single dialogue, to the misuse of the blasphemy law of Pakistan, according to which any person found guilty of insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) can be given a jail term or death penalty. Can the blasphemy law be misused and has it been misused in the past? The answer is a resounding yes. Much like inheritance and corporate laws, any law is prone to being misused.
The blasphemy law is no exception. There have been uncountable instances where innocent people have been sentenced to jail for a crime they did not commit. Can the opponents of the film pretend that religious laws are immune to misapplication?
The bearded character in the trailer who threatens the protagonist with the blasphemy law looks like an Muslim cleric. I do not know if he is shown as a cleric in the film, but even if he is, since when is a fictional cleric representative of a religion or its teachings or moral principles? In the world we live in, corruption is all-pervasive. Every group and profession has its share.
In a single Punjabi dialogue, the teaser also alludes to child sexual abuse by morally corrupted clerics. Needless to say, there have been innumerable recorded cases of such instances not only in Pakistan, but in all other countries and across all religions. One of the harsh realities of mankind is that men of religious authority are no exception to crime and foul play.
To my mind the trailer is reminiscent of a pious man (the protagonist) ashamed of a past misdeed, hoping for a ruthless society to forgive him. With our closets stuffed with skeletons, surely we can relate to this scenario. The short trailer reminds us that no one is perfect or immune to temptation, and that while God always forgives, human beings are not so gracious.
Lately, the Pakistani government has overruled its own censor board’s clearance and allowed a representative of the opposing party to be included in the panel that will review the film for the umpteenth time. This calls into question the government’s own efficacy in handling extremist elements that have been detrimental to the country’s international image. Where do we stand in the battle against intolerance and religious bigotry when bigots are colluded with to decide on the meaning of bigotry?
The film “Zindagi Tamasha” should be released without bargain and without delay so that artistic freedom and tolerance resurfaces with new vigor in Naya Pakistan.