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Photo: Zindagi Tamasha (Circus of Life)

The battle for Pakistan’s cinema

Pakistan’s rulers have long viewed cinema as a moral threat. But the country’s filmmakers and artists are still demanding to be heard

By Sanam Maher   June 2021

On 24th January 2020, two days before his film Zindagi Tamasha (Circus of Life) was due to appear in Pakistani cinemas, Sarmad Khoosat watched his father defend it against accusations of blasphemy on a primetime television talk show.

It was a surreal moment, Khoosat recalls. After the trailer was released on 3rd January, the hardline religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) declared the film disrespectful towards Islam—an extremely serious accusation in Pakistan, technically punishable by death. He received threatening phone messages and a social media campaign forced him to cancel all promotional activity. Officials at the censorship board who had previously cleared the film now sent him vague messages warning of “trouble” brewing. Then the broadcasting minister Firdous Ashiq Awan tweeted that the government would invite a group of clerics to check the film for anti-Islamic content. “The producers have been advised to delay the release,” the minister said.

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