ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday delayed the decision to review the ban on Bollywood comedy poking fun at Osama bin Laden, which censors said was a threat to security and offensive to Muslims.
Earlier, authorities had announced that the decision to ban the film was being reviewed.
Pakistani censors banned "Tere bin Laden" (Without you, Laden) shortly before it was due to open at cinemas nationwide this month. The film is a spoof about a Pakistani reporter who wants to migrate to the United States and hopes his interview with a chicken farmer who is the spitting image of the world's most wanted man can get him the visa he has been denied.
Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar plays the starring role, but the board of censors said the film could incite revenge attacks in a country already suffering militant bombings weekly if not daily.
Censors said the film ridiculed Pakistani society, was offensive to Muslims, portrays bin Laden as a "coward and ridiculous", contained vulgar language and could fan hostility among "fanatic and fundamentalist elements" in Pakistan. But the film's promoters appealed the ban as a violation of freedom of expression, forcing government officials to review the decision. "I'm astonished they did this," said promoter Nadeem Mandviwala.
"There are many TV programmes in Pakistan criticising the president, prime minister and everybody else in a comic way. Our society has become tolerant."
Government officials on Friday attended a private screening of the film to decide whether to uphold the ban or release it for public consumption, said Abdul Sattar Khokhar, acting chairman of the Central Board of Film Censors. A decision was expected later Friday, he said.
"This movie is anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan and there is a security threat," Khokhar told AFP, in comments indicating that the ban was likely to be upheld.
The "Tere bin Laden" controversy comes after a number of Gulf states banned a hard-hitting Bollywood film that claims to tell the true story behind violence in the Muslim-majority region. In India's entertainment capital, Mumbai, the film's producer, Pooja Shetty, said: "We're still hoping that we get some kind of clearance for the film. "I'm hopeful that they will look at it in a positive light," Shetty, the joint managing director at production company Walkwater Media, told AFP. "I don't think it's a preachy film, neither is it making fun of terrorism. It's about a fake Osama... It's a comedy, a spoofy film."
The film was being released in India and a number of countries on Friday, including Australia, Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states. It is expected to be released in the United States at a later date, added Shetty.
The film's subject matter and publicity about Pakistan's ban have catapulted the low-budget film into the spotlight in India and abroad. The Times of India newspaper gave the film three stars, despite saying its production was a "shade amateur". "The film scores above several of the recent laugh riots that may have done well at the box office, but definitely didn't have an intelligent script to boast of," its reviewer said. "'Tere Bin Laden' has both: smart script and some smart acting."
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