Here are 15 Pakistani Films That Were Banned Over The Years

The Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) has a history of shutting down films that push the envelope.

Filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s much-awaited film Joyland is not the first film to be banned in Pakistan for its LGBTQ themes, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) has a history of restricting films that push the envelope or touch upon sensitive or controversial issues. If it is informed that a production explores topics outside the ‘norms of society’ or has thought-provoking content, it is either censored or banned.

Here is a list of Pakistani films that were either banned or censored:

1. Jago Hua Savera (Day Shall Dawn) – 1959

Directed by A. J. Kardar, and written by the legendary Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Jago Hua Savera tells the story of East Pakistani (now Bangladeshi) fishermen and their struggles with loan sharks. The film was a joint production of East and West Pakistan.

However, the West Pakistani government under General Ayub Khan ordered producer Nauman Taseer to not release the film just days before its premiere. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also imprisoned for his communist beliefs later on.

2. Jibon Thekey Neya (Taken From Life) – 1970

Considered to be the first political film of Bangladesh and filmmaker Zahir Raihan’s finest work, Jibon Thekey Neya is a story about a very ordinary family in East Pakistan (Bangladesh), which served as a metaphor for General Ayub Khan’s oppression of East Pakistanis.

The political satire was a tribute to the martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement (1948—1952.

The movie irked the West Pakistani government and it banned the film because the character of a dominating woman in a household consisting of her husband, two brothers, and servants symbolized General Ayub Khan’s regime.

The Bengali people staged protests and demonstrations in various places, which subsequently forced the government to release the film. The film played across East Pakistani cinemas for six months before it was banned once again.

3. Insan Aur Gadha – 1973

Written, directed, and produced by Syed Kamal, Insan Aur Gadha is proof that Pakistani politicians cannot take a joke

Starring the iconic comedian Rangeela, the film is a satirical take on the human conditions in Pakistan. Its story revolves around a donkey whose wish to live life as a human being comes true.

Within weeks of its release, Pakistan’s fourth president, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, banned it for its mockery of his oratory style.

4. Aurat Raj – 1979

Perhaps this film was too far ahead of its time and is thought to be the first Pakistani pro-feminist movie.

Aurat Raj by Rangeela, which starred Rani, Waheed Murad, and Sultan Rahi, was banned shortly after its release. The film is based on a short story by writer Shaukat Thanvi, which explored reversed gender roles.

The plot revolves around oppressed women who form a strong feminist movement and gain political power as well. Eventually, the female lead (played by Rani) gives men a taste of their own misogyny and patriarchy by converting them into women. Who says the Pakistani film industry lacks ideas?

5. Maula Jatt – 1979

This cult classic’s redemption speaks for itself. Before Fawad Khan and Hamza Ali Abbasi reprised the lead roles of the protagonist and the antagonist respectively this year, the iconic characters were played by the legendary Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi.

Directed by Younis Malik, Maula Jatt was banned shortly after its release due to its “excessive violence and sexual content”.

Fortunately, producer Sarwar Bhatti managed to get a stay order as the film was screened nationwide in cinemas for two-and-a-half years.

6. The Blood of Hussain – 1980

Filmmaker Jamil Dehlavi’s The Blood of Hussain tells the story of Hussain, the youngest son of a Pakistani family. He encounters a soothsayer who foretells his destiny to liberate the poor and oppressed against a tyrannical government.

The plot is said to be inspired by the historical Battle of Karbala.

The Blood of Hussain was banned during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime for depicting a military coup in a “less than favorable light”.

7. Khamosh Pani – 2003

The Indo-Pakistani film was based on a south Punjabi family in the late 1970s during Pakistan’s increasing religious radicalization under General Zia-ul-Haq.

Veteran Bollywood actress, Kirron Kher, played a widowed mother, living with her young son in it.

Interestingly, Khamosh Pani was primarily banned in Pakistan because it featured Indian actors.

8. Slackistan – 2010

Directed by Hammad Khan, Slackistan was Shahbaz Shigri’s acting debut, and Osman Khalid Butt’s second onscreen performance. The indie movie is about a young man struggling to manage his personal and professional life as the country goes through political turmoil.

Slackistan has the distinction of getting banned by the CBFC for using too many English and Urdu swear words.

9. Maalik – 2016

Former Pakistani actor and filmmaker Ashir Azeem’s Maalik, starring Adnan Shah Tipu, Farhan Ally Agha, Sajid Hasan, Hassan Niazi, was banned by the Government of Sindh just eight days after it premiered.

Interestingly, the story is about a ‘feudal lord who becomes the Chief Minister of Sindh and unleashes a reign of terror on all that cross his path’.

After a long legal battle, the Lahore High Court lifted the ban and the film was allowed to run on limited screens. However, the film proved to be Ashir Azeem’s last project as he left Pakistan for Canada and became a truck driver.

10. Verna – 2017

Directed by Shoaib Mansoor, Verna featured Mahira Khan, Rasheed Naz, Haroon Shahid, Zarrar Khan, and Naimal Khawal Abbasi, and touched upon a very real and sensitive issue in society. However, this proved to be too problematic for the CBFC and it banned the film in 2017 because “the general plot of the movie revolves around rape, which we consider to be unacceptable”.

The ban caused a public outcry as women’s rights activists, including Gululai Ismail, campaigned for Verna‘s release via social media. She stated that “rape is a rampant issue in Pakistan” and movies like Verna are “crucial in moving society forward.”

The current Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, ensured Verna‘s release to the masses as three days after the ban, Shoaib Mansoor’s film was cleared by the CBFC without any censors.

11. Durj (The Casket) – 2019

Written and directed by Shamoon Abbasi, Durj is based on real-life events besides inspiration from the iconic Hollywood film, The Silence of the Lambs.

Durj pushed the boundaries of Pakistani cinema by exploring the theme of cannibalism. The subject matter proved to be too hard for CBFC to digest and it banned the film for being “inappropriate” for public viewing.

Nonetheless, Shamoon Abbasi’s unique mystery thriller managed to get released nationwide later on.

12. Zindagi Tamasha (Circus of Life) – 2022

Directed by Sarmad Khoosat, this film shows a devout Muslim from Lahore, who writes, composes, and records hymns. One day, he is recorded dancing at a family function and the video goes viral on social media, causing chaos to ensue in his quiet life.

Zindagi Tamasha‘s description on YouTube reads that it is “an intimate portrait of a family as well as a scorching political commentary on the little gods on this earth who police private passions”.

13. I’ll Meet You There – 2020

Written, directed, and produced by Pakistani-American filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal, I’ll Meet You There was denied screening in Pakistan by the CBFC a week before its release.

According to the censor board, the film “does not reflect true Pakistani culture, portrays a negative image of Muslims” and is against the “social and cultural values of Pakistan”.

14. Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer – 2022

Abu Aleeha’s gruesome film about a real-life Pakistani serial killer, starring actors Yasir Hussain and Ayesha Omar, stood little chance of screening nationwide, given the CBFC’s trigger-happy track record.

Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer is based on a man who callously murdered 100 children in Lahore during the late 1990s. It remains banned by the Government of Punjab although it has won accolades abroad. Yasir Hussain, who plays the titular character in the biopic, won the Best Actor Male Jury Mention award at the 11th Annual Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) last week.

Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer had its world premiere at the UK Film Festival this May, and Yasir Hussain won his first award for it in the Best Actor and Aleeha (aka Ali Sajjad Shah), bagged the award for Best Director.

15. Joyland – 2022

Lastly, we have Saim Sadiq’s internationally acclaimed film, Joyland, which is based on the struggles of transgender people in Pakistani society. It was unbanned by the CBFC last night after being banned on 11 November for containing “highly objectionable” content despite being cleared in August.

It will now be screened across Pakistan on 18 November.

The film features trans-actor Alina Khan in the main role, with the supporting cast of Sania Saeed, Ali Junejo, and Sarwat Gilani.

These questionable censorship and bans shed light on the fact that the local cinema of Pakistan has been largely affected by political and social repression. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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