Zindagi Tamasha, produced by Sarmad Khoosat, is Pakistan's official entry to Oscars 2021. The film had its premier at the Busan International Film Festival last year, is now Pakistan's official entry to the Academy Awards. Even though it is a proud moment for the country, the film had faced enough backlash initially from the religious groups.
The film had passed the censor board certifications. But fundamentalist groups, including Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), objected to the film terming it blasphemous. Khoosat even faced death threats. The films, set in Lahore city of Pakistan is "an intimate portrait of a family as well as a scorching political commentary on little gods on this earth who police our private passions," according to the official synopsis, the Dawn said in a report.
“Pre-Zindagi Tamasha, I was quite a loved screen person for most of the country,” Khoosat as quoted as saying by The Guardian. Khoosat has been among the top artistes of Pakistan's entertainment industry. He directed the popular TV Drama Humsafar starring Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan. He has acted in dramas as well films in Pakistan. In October 2018 he delivered a 24-hour-long live act, No Time To Sleep, enacting the last 24 hours of a death row prisoner's life, a performance which earned him critical appreciation.
Zindagi Tamasha, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last year, revolves around a patriarch (played by Arif Hassan) whose single act of self expression wrecks havoc on the lives of his immediate family. “In retrospect, it’s funny how everybody would just say ‘this doesn’t happen in Pakistan’. We don’t ban films. They do that in India! They have protests against films, they have extremist factions.’ “There have been problems in Pakistan, they would massively censor or delete bits from films. The film banning business is not too fashionable here. This hit all of us quite badly,” Khoosat, best known for TV show Humsafar and his feature directorial debut Manto, said.
Zindagi Tamasha was supposed to be 2020's first Pakistani film release, to be shown in cinemas on January 24. However, it was stopped from being released, owing to the backlash.
“All the heartache that Zindagi Tamasha gave me has somehow restored my faith in the power of art too: the sheer, almost physical power of art to make life imitate it. This announcement, for me, is a very bright light shining at the end of this dark tunnel of a year. I made this film in Pakistan and foremost, for Pakistan, for my people and the misfortune that my people have remained deprived of it weighs quite heavy on my artistic conscience," Kanwal Khoosat, co-producer of the film, was quoted as saying by the Dawn.
Sarmad Khoosat's phone number was leaked, he faced death threats and was sent pictures of decapitated heads on his phone. One religious leader even went on to say that the film would be released over his dead body.
The film follows an old man in Punjab who is know in the locality as someone who sings naats. But one day someone records him on the phone while dancing to a Punjabi song and as the video gets shared, he is condemned. People stop inviting him to sing naats. People ven spit at him or stop him for selfies after the video leak. the story is inspired by the story of a real-life man whose video of dancing to Punjabi song was leaked after which he was compelled to tender an apology. Interestingly, Khoosat, just like the protagonist of his film, too considered tendering an apology in a video when the harassment and death threats peaked last year.