Why Has Pakistan Banned Joyland Movie?


The controversial film Joyland received global accolades on film festival circuits for its portrayal of a transgender love affair. The movie has been banned for ‘highly objectionable material’ wasn’t a surprise for Pakistan.

The film is set in Lahore and shot in the Punjabi language revolves around the story of a young married man from a middle-class conservative family who joins an erotic dance theatre and falls in love with a starlet transgender performer. His love story elucidates the desires and secrets which is in contradiction with his patriarchal family.

The critically acclaimed film is Pakistan’s official entry for the category of Best International Feature Film for Oscars 2023.

It got its first premiere at Cannes 2022, where it received a standing ovation from the audience and jury.

Joyland has gained massive appreciation worldwide. The film received top global awards, including the Queer Palm, which is the Cannes Film Festival’s LGBTQ prize.

The movie also came away with rave reviews after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and the American Film Institute Festival.

Unfortunately, before the film was released in the theatres, objections were raised by Islamists, who have not seen the film citing controversial content which was deemed un-Islamic, thus unfit for screening in a Sunni Muslim majoritarian Pakistan.

Days before the release of the film, the Pakistan authority ‘uncertified’ the film and blocked it from screening in the country.

Joyland (126 minutes) was slated to be screened in movie theatres across Pakistan this week. But the religious leader forced the federal censor board to reverse its decision and declare the movie “ineligible” for Pakistan.

The Islamic Republic has a notorious history of banning movies in various categories, citing religious reasons and so-called nationalistic reasons.

A Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan posted a tweet that he was relieved to hear about the ban. “Nothing un-Islamic can happen here [Pakistan],” Ahmad added.

Filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s Joyland received a letter from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting days ahead of its release which blocks the film to see the light of day.

The devastated filmmaker instead of showing his frustration thanked the “written complaints” from people claiming it features “indecent and immoral” content and reminded that legally, “Joyland is still certified to release in Punjab and Sindh on November 18.”

He argued that the 18th amendment in the Pakistani constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decision. Yet the ministry suddenly caved under pressure from a few Islamist – and made a “mockery of our federal censor board by rendering their decision irrelevant,” he lamented.

Director of the film Sadiq told Al Jazeera TV network that he was dismayed at the government’s decision. He remarked that this sudden U-turn by the government is unconstitutional and illegal.

Pakistan’s parliament broke ground in 2018 by passing a law to provide legal recognition to transgender persons, some conservative hardliners have lately been campaigning to take those rights away from people.

The recent ban on Oscar contender Joyland after religious backlash is yet another example of Mullah’s intolerance and disrespect for freedom of expression and creative media.

As the visiting scholar and former ambassador, Prof Husain Haqqani says, the mullahs, military, militancy and mosque nexus have unlimited evil power in Pakistan.

Immediately after a copy of the ban notification crept into social media, celebrities have been up in arms, calling for an end to the ban and for the film to be released.

The outcry of support for the film flooded the social media space from mango people, including artists and civil society. Hashtags #ReleaseJoyland and #BanJoyland are trending in social media both in favour and against the film.

If Joyland fails to be screened in Pakistan, the nomination for Oscar Academy Award would be stopped at a roadblock.

In the starring roles in Joyland are Rasti Farooq (Mumtaz), Alina Khan (Biba), Sarwat Gilani (Nucchi), Salmaan Peerzada (Rana Amanullah), Sohail Sameer (Saleem), Sania Saeed (Fayyaz) and Ali Junejo (Haider). The screenplay was written jointly by Maggie Briggs and Saim Sadiq. thenewstimesbd