In Pakistan, governments have historically tended to use bans as a means of first resort – evidence of officialdom’s intolerance for points of view that do not conform to the state-supported discourse. The latest victim is the satirical Indian film Tere Bin.
It was banned by the Central Board of Film Censors which deemed it ‘unsuitable’ for public exhibition, prompting the importers to appeal to the ministry of culture on Thursday. One of the reasons it quoted in the letter sent to importers was that the film “mocks the character of Osama bin Laden and public exhibition can trigger violence”. This risks being understood as the government pandering to supporters of the world’s most wanted man. Secondly, while it is true that there have been incidents where people have turned violent when faced with a point of view with which they disagreed, the solution does not lie in the government playing the nanny’s role. This would cause the sphere of cultural expression to shrink further.
Besides, should the film prove incendiary, the ban would not change matters if some elements chose to provoke violence: knowledge about the film’s contents would spread in any case. A better approach would be to promote tolerance for diverse viewpoints. Through this ban, the public has been denied access to a film on the basis of merely the inclinations of a few individuals.
This is not the first time that cultural products have been censored or banned. Yet Pakistan’s once vibrant cinema and theatre culture must be revived, and moves such as the Punjab government’s directive that surveillance cameras and metal detector gates be installed at cinemas and theatres can help reassure a nervous public. There is bound to be much interest in this film which features a Pakistani pop star in the lead role. The government must realise that in displaying such reflexive intolerance, it is setting a poor example and strengthening a societal mindset that forcefully rejects alternative discourse and does little to counter violent public reactions.