Pak Film ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ Causes Uproar for Being Anti-Religion

The film by Sarmad Ali Sultan, a known director and actor in Pakistan, was slated for release on 24 January

4 min read
Poster of <i>Zindagi Tamasha</i>

An upcoming Pakistani film, Zindagi Tamasha has attracted a lot of uproar from a far-right religious party even before its release.

The film by Sarmad Ali Sultan, a known director and actor in Pakistan, was slated for release on 24 January after getting clearance from various censor boards in the country. But as the film’s trailer made its way on YouTube earlier this month, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), headed by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has demanded to halt the film’s release.

The TLP, in a press statement, claimed that the film showed “tenets of Islam” in a negative light and such a thing could “force people to move away from religion”. “This film should not release at any cost. (Releasing this film) would be equivalent to testing the patience of Muslims in the Islamic republic,” the statement further said.

Rafay Mahmood, a culture writer and critic, said that when the state stops an already certified film from getting released, it sends a message that the protesting group has the power to block or challenge the state’s decision.

Although Rafay has not seen the film and believes that no full opinions can be formed about the content itself without watching the film, the trailer does touch upon very grave social crimes that can be tricky to tackle for a big-screen audience.

“I do feel Zindagi Tamasha’s release would have stirred some sort of public distaste since it calls out the ills of our religious aristocracy that the majority sympathises with. The state should have acted smarter than recalling paid goons and blaming everything on the censor board. You simply cannot act docile after being intimidated by a bunch of loonies who were nowhere to be seen until two years back,” he said.

Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has demanded to halt the film’s release.
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has demanded to halt the film’s release.
(Photo Courtesy: Umer Bin Ajmal)

“That’s a script that’ll even fail in Bollywood. But you reversed a state-imposed decision and made it look like nothing more than bullying. Now suffer. It seems like we've come this far (Asia Bibi verdict and Mumtaz Qadri hanging) to be food for crows.”

Sarmad Ali Sultan was contacted several times but could not be reached for comment.

However, in a four-page open letter posted on his social media accounts, he said: “I did not make Zindagi Tamasha to hurt, offend or malign anyone. It’s a story about a ‘good enough Muslim’ - there was/is no mention of a sect, party or faction of any sort. Neither in the uncensored nor the censored version.

“If a bearded man is to be generically called a molvi, then trust me this is/was a film about a good molvi. An empathetic and heartfelt story of a bearded man who is so much more than just that. He is a human being portrayed through a very humane eye... As an artist the last thing I’d ever want to achieve through my artistic expression is anarchy or hatred. No! That’s not what an artist does. Or at least I don’t.”


For his part, Muhammad Zubair, TLP’s vice-general secretary for Lahore, said his party is satisfied that the film will now be reviewed by CII. On being asked what his party would do if CII gives the go-ahead to the film, Zubair said: “We will talk about it when the time comes. Though we believe that the release of this film will result in uncertainty and anger among the people of Pakistan. If CII will critically look into it then we are certain that this film will not get released.”

The TLP vice-general secretary said it is not fair to term their protest against the film as challenging the writ of the state.

“Protest is our right and we are against the film because it violates 1979 Motion Pictures Ordinance, where it is clearly stated in its chapter two that ‘a film shall not be certified for public exhibition if… the film or any part thereof is prejudicial to the glory of Islam’,” he said.

Chairman of CII Dr Qibla Ayaz, who is also a former dean of the Faculty of Islamic and Oriental Studies at the University of Peshawar, said it was not the first time the body had been approached to review a film to ascertain whether it violated any Islamic ruling.


He said there were two points of view on the film: “One, by the religious community who are very emotional and say that the film targets religious figures; two, the free-minded people who say that the film actually portrays the intolerance that’s prevalent in society. We are yet to see the film and only after reviewing it critically can we comment. But we will review it without any bias and decide on it with objectivity.”

For Rafay, the thing in the entire episode to understand was that the protesting party would not settle for anything less than stopping the release of the film.

“The state has now set a precedent that anybody can force it to capitulate by threatening to take matters to the streets,” he said. “Here we have a party whose members, not long ago, were being charged for arson, and are now dictating their terms to the state.”

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