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January 26, 2020

One ‘Tamasha’ after another

Opinion

January 26, 2020

Dear God, when will they bring the curtain down on this ‘tamasha’? This plaintive cry may remind some of us of that ghazal of Iftikhar Arif which evokes the present mood of uncertainty about how the play that is being staged would unfold. And it is becoming difficult to decipher the dark movements of the various characters who, apparently, are wearing a mask.

It is not my intention to expand on the poet’s vision. As an aside, here is another instance of how Urdu poetry can sum up a particular moment in our collective experience and consciousness. However, it is this allusion to ‘tamasha’ that I find very relevant this week, literally as well as metaphorically.

My point of reference, mainly, is Sarmad Khoosat’s ‘Zindagi Tamasha’, a feature film the release of which has been blocked by a government that seems so anxious to proclaim its victory against the forces of terror and extremism. This is one message that Imran Khan has delivered in Davos.

But this singular act of surrendering to the primitive forces of bigotry and intolerance is a testament of another kind. In fact, the more you think of it, the more you worry about our national sense of direction. Yes, it is hard to read the intent of those who are writing this script.

Let me try to explain why I think that this controversy is so much more deserving of a serious appraisal this week than all the other headlines that relate to the visible chinks in the present government’s armour or to the flour crisis. The issue here are the values that we need to nurture a society that can move ahead at various levels and be at peace with itself.

On the face of it, it was the trailer of ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ that attracted the ire of a religious group – Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The story, briefly, is that the film had already been passed by the Central Board of Film Censors and was set to be released on January 24.

In the wake of the TLP protests and threats to the life of its director, the censors reviewed it one more time. Some cuts were suggested and were duly implemented. Still, the situation continued to aggravate, with more threats and prospects of street agitation.

As the date for the prospective release drew nearer, concerns about how it would play out intensified. Sarmad wrote an open letter to the highest authorities in the land, asking for support for the release of his film and he shared his worries with the potential audience of the film on social media, wondering if he should really take the risk of releasing the film. Meanwhile, the TLP announced its plan for a protest in Karachi on Wednesday.

This prompted the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting into action and it postponed the release of ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ across the country, citing the film’s potential to create unrest within some religious segments of society. The Sindh and Punjab governments also blocked the film’s release.

In a tweet, Firdous Ashiq Awan, announced that “the Central Board of Film Censors has notified the filmmakers not to release the film and decided to approach the Council of Islamic Ideology to deliberate over the matter”.

What does this really mean? Instead of enforcing rule of law and protecting the life and property of citizens, the government, with all the might at its disposal, is submitting to a religious group and giving it authority to monitor a society’s cultural and artistic expression.

I have not yet dwelt on Sarmad’s credentials as an actor and as a director. His previous exploits in this field did raise great expectations and the trailer makes the promise of a meaningful artistic achievement. I got some inkling of it at the exclusive evening with Sarmad and his team at the British Council in Karachi last Sunday.

This ‘Meet & Greet with the Cast and Crew of Zindagi Tamasha’ was an occasion to celebrate the production of a film that explores the reality of our life and also mourn the environment in which a message of love and tolerance can so easily be subverted, thanks to the spinelessness of our rulers.

Obviously, they need to be distracted by other forms of a ‘tamasha’. As for Iftikhar Arif and Sarmad Khoosat, the word has a deeper and a more poetic context. Interestingly, the English title of Sarmad’s film is ‘Circus of Life’. Iftikhar Arif conjures up the idea of a theatre that, in its literary dimension, also reflects human experience.

Then, there is a ‘tamasha’ enacted by our political players who are deprived of any artistic impulse or directorial assistance. Ah, but where does that Faisal Vawda act of ‘boot on the table’ belong? There has been some speculation as to whether he was following a script or if it were just an improvisation.

Incidentally, one particular ‘tamasha’ that was properly scripted and carefully acted out has not attracted the attention that fully merits. It is a parable of a different kind and perhaps Sarmad would like to include it in a future production. But that would also be banned if the present arrangement survives until then.

In this tamasha, the leading role belongs to our very accomplished performer, none other than Firdaus Ashiq Awan. According to one published report, the special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting made a ‘symbolic’ blood donation in Lahore to raise awareness about thalassaemia patients.

It was ‘symbolic’ because no blood transfusion actually took place. “A doctor placed an infusion set without needle on her arm, showing as if she was donating the blood”. The staff said it needed the “footage and pictures” of Dr Awan so they brought a bagful of blood “showing that it was donated by the PM’s aide”.

Come to think of it, this was symbolic in many other senses. It is the task of a spokesperson to put a spin on what is real. But it cannot always be a joke.

The writer is a seniorjournalist.

Email: [email protected]