Why Raees was banned in Pakistan

The Express Tribune was allowed to attend CBFC preview of the film ‘in secrecy’

Rafay Mahmood February 25, 2017
SRK and Mahira Khan in Raees. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

ISLAMABAD: It was another dull and boring afternoon in Rawalpindi until things finally got a little exciting. After fighting our case for two long days, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Chairman Mobashir Hasan allowed The Express Tribune to attend a preview of Raees ‘in secrecy’.

“Members don’t allow outsiders during the previewing process but we also want the transparency of the process to be shared with the audience,” stated the chairman.

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He was also concerned about any breach of security protocol. “The Indian censor board is notorious for leaking films for piracy purposes and we have never allowed that to happen. So the most we can do is allowing you to sit and observe the process in secrecy.”

So I headed out to the Centaurus cinema where the preview was supposed to take place. With so much riding on Raees, we were actually quite optimistic about the film’s release in Pakistan. We didn’t have any expectations from Raees as a film and that was the only expectation that was met at the end of the day.

I was asked to enter the gold cinema from the multiplex’s exit gate where a government official was there to receive me. He warmly welcomed me to the cinema and asked me to take a seat in the corner. So I took my seat and started observing the screening session.

It was clear from their looks and dialects that the panel comprised people from different ethnicities. They knew their films and would often joke about a scene that was about to be excised during a previous screening but the board let it go. Surprisingly, all members were there on time and that’s when files bearing the name of the film were distributed among panelists. The intention was to watch the film in one go and make notes of all the issues without interrupting the process.

Raees obviously started with the typical school-going kid becoming the understudy of a leading gangster, in this case a bootlegger. Thankfully, the panel was interrupted by a waiter who was there to ask about refreshments and caramel popcorn turned out to be the popular choice. The popcorn also served as a pleasant distraction from whatever was happening on screen as the board members waited for something extraordinary to happen. They kept on making and sharing notes until Sunny Leone came on screen. And whether you like it or not, she did manage to get a few giggles from the crowd. This was perhaps the liveliest moment of the screening.

Raees turned out to be an average film with plenty of good performances. Surprisingly that was the notion shared by most of the members too; something that made me shed a number of stereotypes associated with them.

“Bas theek thi janab (it was okay), nothing extraordinary,” said one board member as soon as the curtain fell. “Pata nahin itni hype kis cheez ki thi (don’t know what all the hype was about),” another one noted. One member sitting on the extreme right appreciated the music and overall experience which was openly denounced by the rest of the clan, including the chairman.

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Now that the ranting was done, board members huddled to discuss the film. “I don’t think there’s anything controversial in the film. For me, it can pass uncut and with a ‘universal’ rating,” said the first member.

The second member was quick to add that the panel should excise the scenes in which Shah Rukh Khan is seen performing Matam. “People are very sensitive about these things and so should we,” he said and the sentiment was echoed by the rest of the members who took to their files to make this note.

It seemed there was hardly any major issue with the film as most of the members were more concerned about the film not living up to its hype. The less vocal members of the board agreed to the suggested changes and a universal rating until one member sitting in the second row walked up to them and pointed out a long list of issues.

“They have only shown Muslims in a bad light as if all they do is sell alcohol,” said the concerned member, who was interrupted by another member who said, “But the film is about bootleggers and is based in a Muslim majority area of Gujarat and they do show corrupt politicians belonging to different sets of faiths.” The concerned member still thought it was a big issue.

He went onto share his second and most significant issue with the film which was one of the major taglines, “Dhanday sae bara koi dharam nahin hota (There’s no bigger religion than business).” This was followed by a moment of silence as the concerned member suggested it was a very controversial dialogue that needs to be entirely removed from the film. The chairman was quick to defend it by saying that the same character eventually nullifies his own argument by saying, “Mae dharam dekh kay dhanda nahin karta (I don’t mix religion with business),” to which the crowd agreed but the concerned member still had reservations.

Before I left the cinema, everyone apart from one member suggested a universal rating with minor excisions in Raees as their final verdict.

As I walked out of cinema with the chairman, we both were optimistic about the film’s release. Later on he informed me that the board had unanimously deemed the film unfit for public screening. Provincial censor boards followed suit and considered Raees unfit for public screening despite an initial decision to release it with universal rating.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2017.

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