November 26, 2022

Islamabad, Pakistan CNN —

The award-winning film ‘Joyland’ opens in cinemas in parts of Pakistan on Friday after authorities in the South Asian nation lifted a ban imposed after complaints that the homegrown film was unfit for viewing.

Directed by Saim Sadiq, “Joyland” tells the love story between the youngest son of a “happily patriarchal common family” and a transgender starlet he meets after secretly joining an erotic dance theater company, according to a summary on the website of the Cannes Film Festival.

The plot seemed too sensitive for the Pakistani government, which last week revoked the film’s certification after receiving written complaints that it contained “highly objectionable material”.

However, government adviser Salman Sufi tweeted on Wednesday that the censorship board’s review committee subsequently cleared the film with requested changes, adding: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and should be nurtured within the law.”

The film opened in some cinemas across Pakistan on Friday, except in Punjab province, where the Information and Culture Ministry said it could not be shown “due to ongoing complaints from various quarters”.

As of Thursday evening, the filmmakers had not issued an official statement on the lifting of the nationwide ban or the new ban in Punjab.

Joyland is the first Pakistani film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the unofficial Queer Palm in May. It was then submitted to the Oscars as Pakistan’s official entry for the International Feature Film Awards. According to the Academy’s official rules, it must be in theaters at least seven days before November 30 to qualify for inclusion.

The lifting of the nationwide ban came after a public outcry from human rights organizations and prominent Pakistanis, including Malala Yousafzai, who is also the film’s executive producer.

In an Instagram post, the film’s director, Sadiq, urged the authorities to reconsider the ban, and one of its stars, Rasti Farooq, said in a post: “I stand by my film and all that with every fiber of my being he says being.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan published a expression Sunday, condemning the government’s de-certification of “Joyland” as “angry transphobic” and a violation of film producers’ right to free speech.

“Pakistan’s viewers have the right to choose what to watch,” the statement said.