By Amjad Ali
Islamabad, Nov 18 (EFE).- Joyland, the Pakistani film co-produced by Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai that depicts a love story between a young man from a traditional Muslim family and a trans dancer, is set to hit the theaters on Friday amid opposition by the conservative sections of the society.
The film will be released across the country except the eastern Punjab province – which is home to around half of Pakistan’s 220 million people – where it has been withheld due to objections by the Islamists.
Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), is set to hold a protest in Karachi on Friday evening against the film’s screening.
The film, which credits Yousafzai as executive producer, tells the story of a young married man from a middle-class family in Punjab’s Lahore who joins a risqué dance theatre and falls in love with Biba, a transgender dancer.
“Falling in love means death,” the protagonist, Haider, tells Biba in a dialog.
Joyland shot to fame earlier this year after winning Queer Palm, the LGBTQ prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and the international acclaim it received when Pakistan’s Oscars Selection Committee chose it as their official entry for the 2023 Academy Awards.
The film’s release comes after weeks of controversy in a country where same-sex relationships are considered “haram,” (banned under Islam).
“Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable material which does not conform with the social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of decency and morality,” the central government had said in a notification on Friday.
Actor Sarwat Gilani, who played one of the leading roles in the movie, expressed regret that the result of collective efforts by over 200 Pakistanis over more than six years was facing obstacles in their own country.
“Don’t take away this moment of pride and joy from our people,” she implored.
In an interview, Yousafzai called the film a love letter to Pakistan, to its culture, food, fashion and, most of all, its people.
The Nobel laureate said Joyland reflects the reality of “millions of ordinary Pakistanis,” who long for freedom and fulfillment.
The ban on the film was lifted on Wednesday when a committee established by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif approved its release after the censor board had already cleared it in a review.
Joyland’s director Saim Sadiq welcomed the decision but told EFE that he was sad that “the Punjab province, which has the largest audience, has banned it.”
Some religious sections of the Pakistani society have strongly opposed the film.
“The government surrendered to foreign pressure (to release the film), unfortunate for Pakistan,” Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, a Ji lawmaker, tweeted on Wednesday.
“It’s a cultural terrorism on us and a direct attack on our beliefs,” he told EFE on Thursday.
Social media reactions to the release were also mixed, with many people welcoming the lifting of the ban while others raged against it.
“Nudity is a major sin. But let me tell you, releasing of a film that promotes LGBTQ from the governmental level of this country. I fear the Azaab (punishment) of Allah on Pakistan,” Ali Ehtisham, a blogger and a YouTuber, said on Twitter.