- Who decides whether a film can be shown?
The Punjab and Sindh governments have decided that the film Zindagi Tamasha cannot be released, even though their Censor Boards had cleared the film. The Central Censor Board has put off a decision until the Council of Islamic Ideology reviews the movie. The reason for this excessive interest in the film is the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which has threatened dire consequences if the movie is screened. Who decides whether the movie is blasphemous or not? The Censor Boards? The CII? Or the TLP? And within the TLP, who? Its head, Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi alone, or some group? Does the TLP feel comfortable with condemning a movie which none of its leaders could have viewed?
There seem to be three issues involved. The first is whether a potential law and order situation is good enough reason for judging a film by? The second is who is to judge what constitutes blasphemy? The third is whether the state’s decision on these matters, by a duly constituted body, is to be accepted, or is open to being second-guessed by anyone who so decides. Previously having confined itself to deciding on whether or not someone was a blasphemer, or a non-Muslim, the TLP is now in danger of making aesthetic judgements. It almost seems as if it is engaged in expanding its space. From having a federal minister resign over allegations that he was non-Muslim, it seems the TLP has now turned to film criticism. From blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), there seems a more generalised desire to protect Islam. Are art exhibitions and poetic symposia next?
It is surprising that there has been no discussion of the censors who approved the movie after a few cuts. That is the proper place to vet a movie for matter that may damage the moral fibre of the viewers, or provoke them to violence. If they are properly constituted, their judgement should be accepted. They are fallible, and if they make a mistake, their appointing authority should take the matter up with them. Threatening the film is like setting fire to the cinema because one thinks it was a bomb. The government must not treaty this as a routine law-and-order issue. It must protect the freedom of expression, and repel the attack that the TLP has launched on it.