It is unusual if not unique for a film, which is legally certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to be de-certified retrospectively. The film Maalik had been on release for three weeks when the CBFC suddenly ordered its de-certification and banned it from being screened. Outcry ensued from several quarters, and accusations of an over-regulatory environment and state control over freedom of expression emerged on social media. It transpires that the action of the CBFC is — allegedly — driven by reports of threats to burn down cinemas if Maalik continues to be screened. There is no independent verification of this assertion.
Given the time elapsed since the film was released duly certified, it is something of a mystery as to why it should suddenly be judged to cause such widespread offence. There had been no street protests, and although one can argue that the film is a crude and inaccurate representation particularly of politicians it hardly stands up as a significant trigger for national social disorder. The (struggling) film industry has protested at the ban, and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has reportedly said that it will resist it, a move of doubtful consequences given the legal basis the government is working from. There may be subjective artistic reasons to criticise the film — insensitivity to two or more ethnic groups is alleged — but this is not grounds for a blanket ban, which speaks of a desire for centralised control of media and the arts generally which bodes ill in a society already marching resolutely towards a narrow conservatism. The assertions that there was a widespread risk of serious civil disorder and arson need to be substantiated and not taken at face value, and if true beg the question as to why the law-enforcement agencies have not questioned or arrested those who are threatening to burn down cinemas. Maalik is unlikely to ever be seen as a classic, but it may serve as a place-marker in the struggle between the state and wider society on the much-vexed matter of freedom of expression.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2016.
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