Filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat recently spoke out about his newest film, Zindagi Tamasha, the “ban,” and the digital release of the film in an angry, aggressive, and honest interview with BBC Urdu. When asked about the film’s censorship and subsequent release, the renowned director did not hold back.
Sarmad said, “The journey was very long, difficult, and testing,” when questioned about the time between when the video was banned and when it was shown online. The censor certificate was revoked on occasion, necessitating a reprint or reconsideration. Even with the YouTube release, the events that served as impetus meant that we had to release the film in tandem with a fundraising effort. After that, individuals began sharing a print they found in torrents, on YouTube, or in WhatsApp groups.
The final straw was when I got a WhatsApp alerting me that Zindagi Tamasha was available to stream for Rs300,” he went on to remark. After that, I finally lost it. The fact that my film has been illegally converted to Rs 300 and shared without my knowledge or consent raises the question, “How is someone sending it on a WhatsApp group or announcing on a Facebook group that we’re screening it someday and we’ll watch it online?”
The director said, “No,” when asked if he planned to take advantage of the fact that the movie can now be shown in select areas. The time for that has passed. Call it stubbornness or frustration on my part, but I can’t rely on approval from merely the Federal, KP, or Sindh governments. One nation is all I need. I hold a passport from a single nation. I demand nationwide access to unleash freedom.
When promoting the film, he declared in a video that he was “leaving the judgment to the people” by presenting Zindagi. Tamasha online: When questioned whether or not he’d received that reply, Sarmad answered, “The power of the truth. This was a common remark. I also feel it necessary to state for the record that there were initial concerns that the video was anti-religious because it was perceived to be biased against people who sported facial hair. Recently, my staff handed me a comment [made by a bearded guy] that read, “I came to report the film. Then I wondered if I should actually see it before writing about it. For two hours, I stared at the screen, trying to find something to write about.
He elaborated, “There were screenshots of people saying if two people watched it, they bought tickets worth Rs 2000; if five people watched it, they bought tickets worth Rs 5000.” Someone suggested they spend Rs 700 on a movie ticket, so that’s how much they pay. There is no way to repay or make up for such kindness and generosity. Therefore, it has not been largely uplifting; in fact, it has not even been mostly uplifting. Since comments were enabled, even the abusers have stopped their behavior.
When asked why the censor board did not show the film, Sarmad replied, “Initially, the first screening was for Punjab. They also said it was appropriate for adults only (i.e., no minors allowed) and that it contained no cuts. And then there was a federal review. Although I may be mistaken, I don’t believe they classified it as “adult,” and no censor board removed or deemed anything inappropriate. This process is known as “hazf karna,” and it occurs after the certificate has been issued. We were instructed to beep at any abusive dialogue in a scene. A friend of one of the characters beeps after being verbally abused. We were also advised to cut down the size of a particular scenario set in the Milad. The only other censor was absent. Never. Why did they tell me over the phone that it wasn’t good? Write it down and send it to me. I’ll add my voice to the chorus now. Please let me know if the Punjab Censor Board or any other relevant agencies have a letter of prohibition. Has the movie ever been banned? Please hand me the paper.
When asked how he felt about earning a Sitara-e-Imtiaz while simultaneously having his film banned, Sarmad responded with a laugh and stated, “I don’t know… Sincerely, I cannot say There are many other bright lights that have been overlooked for this award. So, now that we’re through 2010, where do we stand with Manto Sahab’s recognition? We don’t know our value. I can’t say. This was a huge shock to me. My friends advised me to make it clear that I do not seek this recognition. ‘No, I still won’t do drama,’ I responded. It is true that I will not include anyone else in the thank-you note. All I can say is ‘thank you, country.
When asked if he planned to continue making movies like this and if anything would change in the way he went about making them, he said, “Yes, one thing I’d like to admit on the record that I’ve reflected on would be that perhaps I should have omitted those lines in the trailer. Those three or four sentences in the film are spread out, and by the way, everyone believed the film was quite angry and would deliver a discourse on so many ‘important’ subjects when they saw the trailer. I don’t know if that’s true or not.
He continued, “Yes, at the outset, when everything first started happening, there was a lot of confusion, tension, and dread. And, I dunno, I’d like to think I emerged from it, since I don’t like to think that I subject my work to any filters other than my own. I’ve been at this for a while, so I really ought to trust my knowledge and provide room for growth. This story was not told out of animosity toward anyone. This is not a story I made up. I didn’t get the idea out of thin air. We’re surrounded by incidents. I don’t mean this as a challenge, but I’d like to see one scene that most people would consider foreign to them. It may be anything from eating in bed to being startled by the sight of a dancing grandma at a wedding. Or a situation in which powerful people abuse their position. Nothing here was from another planet. In my opinion, the mainstream contains a lot more fantasy and strange components than the niche does.
He went on to remark, “Someone directly messaged me, saying their mother had never watched the film. She was into my drama. They informed Mom about my movie’s release. The following words were the mother’s message. I am only a regular gal, but Sarmad can count on me to be by his side, she wrote to him in Punjabi. I’m not sure if I deserve that or not. Maybe your job doesn’t have that much impact.