Slackistan: Not coming to a cinema near you

Published: January 26, 2011

The film follows a young group of friends in Islamabad

The Pakistani creative and entertainment industry is in the line of fire yet again. Last week’s cause célèbre is incidental heroine Veena Malik, the Lollywood actress whose participation in the Indian reality television show Bigg Boss, has touched a raw nerve with Pakistan’s self-appointed morality brigade (media and mullah alike). She emerged from Kamran Shahid’s show Frontline as an ambassador for showbiz and entertainment.

This week, we have been greeted with the news that Hammad Khan’s feature film Slackistan with an all-Pakistani cast will not be released in Pakistan because of the raft of objections and censorship demands from the Pakistani Central Board of Film Censors. In all fairness if the director were to comply with the demands of the Central Board of Film Censors there would be nothing left of it.

I watched Slackistan when it premièred in London in early October 2010 as part of the Raindance Film Festival in London. By this time, Slackistan had been in the media spotlight for almost a year. The Guardian wrote:

“Indeed, the strap line for the film is: ‘Think you know Pakistan. Think again’. While it sounds like it ought to be part of a tourist campaign, it points to a country that is rarely explored in modern cinema, TV or literature.”

The BBC Asian Network (Radio) said that Slackistan has a cult following online. With all this hype it was impossible not to go and see the film.

What the film is about

Drawing his inspiration from American director and producer Richard Linklater’s 1991 debut Slacker, Slackistan is about the universality of growing up and defining oneself. In it Khan’s characters go from being ‘stuck in the waiting room of life’ to becoming (or in some cases remaining) slackers. But the film’s real creative potential lies in capturing the socioeconomic and political circumstances of the city of Islamabad.

This is done through dialogue and location. In their conversations, the characters reveal their fascination with the ‘McDonalds’ culture: brands and symbolisms. They love burgers, western fashion, branded material, dancing, drinking and partying. But equally the film demonstrates the paradoxes with which the characters coexist, such as the easy mistrust between the have and have-nots or a visit to the French colony, which brings relief as to how the city is compartmentalised so that its elite can have their essential home-help, gardening and cleaning services living nearby. Then there is the omnipresent threat of religious extremism and terrorism, which the characters in the film laugh and joke about because perhaps that is the only way to come to terms with the uncertainty of violence that has become a salient feature of Pakistani life.

Why it cannot be censored

If the director were to do away with all references to the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and any inferences to beards and religious attire, edit out any bad language, references to sexual orientation or remove the partying and the alcohol (as the censor board would prefer), the soul of the film would be lost along with a creative representation of the lives of our young slacker elite. Even if the director complied, Slackistan would be subject to an 18+ classification, virtually excluding its younger audience.

Hammad Khan is right to point out that:

“Apart from being an undemocratic restriction on the filmmaker’s right of expression, the verdict shows the disdain with which the authorities regard local film culture and liberal ideas, in the face of growing extremism and intolerance. The censor board’s verdict is oppressive, arbitrary and steeped in denial about life outside their government offices. Maybe the establishment’s view is that young Pakistanis saying words like ‘Taliban’ and ‘lesbian’ represent a more potent threat than the bullets and bombs that are, day by day, finding increasing legitimacy in the country.”

Pakistan’s got talent – you just can’t see it

This is not the first time the Central Board of Film Censors has failed to support local talent and film. Last year, Tere Bin Laden fell foul because it was said to contain objectionable content that could spark controversy. I watched the film when I was in Islamabad in December and found it not just refreshing but an almost satirical comedy. It made me laugh much but also touched upon how terrorism and stereotypes have come to affect us today.

Thwarting the release of Slackistan is not merely about holding back entertainment, it is about the lack of pride in local talent which has gone on to enjoy the international spotlight. It impedes the young musicians who worked on its soundtrack and negates a fair representation of the diversity within Pakistan. We often accuse those who constrict creative expression and diversity of belonging to the extremist or intolerant camp. Personally, I think it is about fear. It is about being afraid of challenging what is perceived to be the voice of the majority. What made Veena Malik an incidental heroine is that as a solo voice. She stood her ground as a professional actress and entertainer. The almost frenzied posting of status updates and articles celebrating her are a testament to her courage.

Offended by art but not by brutality

The need for balanced regulation has never been greater. Its principles must be responsibly defined, guarding freedom of speech as well as ethical boundaries. Our television media today stands only for graphic visualisation of violence, rash news reporting, hate mongering. Why not impose the same standards of governance there? Why will not our censorship boards object to third-rate journalism that falls so far foul of humanity? A universal understanding of ethics should be the benchmark in censorship. There is nothing in Slackistan or Tere bin Laden that is offensive. Slackistan is a very real caricature of a part of Pakistan’s population, albeit elitist, while Tere bin Laden attempts to take a light-hearted view at an otherwise serious issue. Both films are creative, fictional and good illustrations of how the film industry in Pakistan is maturing. We ought to credit them with their artistic due or forever be banished in Zia’s Pakistan.

mehrunnisa.yusuf

Mehrunnisa Yusuf

A UK based researcher who works at the Commonwealth Secretariat. She also writes a food blog featuring recipes, restaurant reviews and her food photography at comeconella.blogspot.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hassaan

    Tere bin Laden is not a Pakistani movie. Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    The censorship is insane and stupid, totally expected from our film industry – but someone who expected that the movie would have passed the censor board is either very naive or tremendously out-of-touch with the realities of Pakistan. I’m sure the director totally had this rejection in his mind and (hopefully) has made other plans for releasing the movie.

    Best of luck to the team and looking forward to watching Slackistan on a DVD or a screening in Karachi soon.Recommend

  • Eeman

    Does the movie have Saima wiggling weirdly in the rain in deep-neck? If not, then the movie has every right to get banned. Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    This is sucha blow, I was so looking forward to Slackistan.Recommend

  • http://deleted Sabeen Masood

    @Eeman:
    nice commentRecommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    Well, there’s always illegal torrenting!Recommend

  • http://ahandfulofdust.wordpress.com/ Mariam

    I second TON. Is the torrent available somewhere on internet?Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    I find it so amazingly ironic that one of the objections raised was the mention of the word ‘lesbians’ in the movie… yet they allowed Dostana to be aired country wide! Good luck with that logic at work! Recommend

  • D_A_B

    Just checked. No torrents available for slackistan :(Recommend

  • Shaista

    Good point, Mahvesh. The other Hindu flicks which we are so keen on showing, are they free of all kinds of crap? This is just ridiculous. Recommend

  • Fizza Hassan

    @Ghausia Nahi! I’ve been looking for torrents but no use. There arents even DVDs available. )=Recommend

  • sam

    its sad..i was really looking forward to watching dis movie…is it released already or not..?Recommend

  • MyohMy

    We are ignoring something here. Legally, releasing Indian movies in Pakistan is not allowed!! Only films which are either co-production or have a foreign producer and entirely shot outside India are allowed.

    How they are showing them then? All Indian films are being released and ask anybody how much it costs to get them release. Pakistan Censor Board is notorious for corruption.

    Even Pakistani films pay bribes. Slackistan is a low budget and made by an overseas Pakistani who has forgotten to ‘pay’ his way! This is the way you work in Pakistan!Recommend

  • Truthful Mole

    Well said Ms. Yusuf: “…The need for balanced regulation has never been greater. Its principles must be responsibly defined, guarding freedom of speech as well as ethical boundaries. Our television media today stands only for graphic visualisation of violence, rash news reporting, hate mongering. Why not impose the same standards of governance there?”
    I agree. The Pakistani media is irresponsible and rather wild. A code of conduct needs to be created to censor and regulate the innumerable number of channels and their often rash news hosts and commentators.Recommend

  • Misha

    For the love of God find a way to make it available to us, we reeeaaally want to watch it!Recommend

  • saadi

    @Eeman: well said :pRecommend

  • shariq

    i m personally impressed by the trailor and looking forward with high hopes to paki film industry.i just want to highlight the fact the everyone who likes the movie WILL watch it either orignal or pirated! so a good option will be to open the a legal way. On the issue of cencorship, we are well aware of the facts and publishing this movie on the cinemas not going to change the situation. Another thing is that what a cencorship we are provided with when internet is open to all kind of contents!!!!Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    @MyohMy:

    They come through distributors, I’m sure. Quit jumping to conclusions – how would you explain the screening of Indian movies in countries such as USA and UK? Keeping in mind the ‘co-production’ factor you mentioned is just a recent development with Hollywood studios. Sure, bribes work, but probably at the Censor Board. If it really were that illegal, Bollywood would have taken action ages ago – it’s hardly hush-hush when movies are released on the same day here. Recommend

  • http://[email protected] roma

    I’m really dont understand this policy of censor board seriously!!
    dont we see what they show in lolly-wood movies!! i mean why cant we all get out of this anti -pak thing and please work on something more beneficial and constructive!!!Recommend

  • Leo

    What pakistani talent are u talking abt dear???the one who smokes cannabis and drinks alcohol with casual sex here n there!!Indeed director has put in lots of effort to show what 0.001% paksitanis r like…does dis represent average pakistan in any way??im not bothered to see wat elites do or are doing…for those who want it, see some po..n istead better use of money.Recommend

  • Maha

    They should release it on the net or illegally distribute it. No other way out.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Adil A. – From Saudi

    Definition of Slacker – A person who avoids to work. – Slackistan is the best name our director has visioned to our country as. No future, no hope, no responsibility of any sort. As I have not seen it until now, it seems that this movie is not just to make us realize that our country is not only going in a s*hole, but it is a awakening call for the youth to stand-up, and throw overboard the government of Pakistan. Bring any other individual to lead the way, Nawaz, Musharraf, or any any any person with a brain. If nothing is going to be done, The US map once upon a time leaked out, is going to come true just in a few years.Recommend

  • http://www.bonfriends.org/ask-super-sis/ Aisha Khan – Relationship

    I have seen its trailer on Facebook. It seems interesting to me. From where i can the full movie?Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    @Fizza Hassan:
    I know but there’ll be torrents out there eventually, it will just take a very long time. Man, its a good movie too. :(Recommend

  • Hozaifa

    it should be named as Slacki Gujjar…Slacki Majajan..to get Approved..no offence ppl…Recommend

  • Karim S

    I hope the film is released in India. Should be.Recommend

  • Ayesha

    I’ve seen the movie and honestly it is one of the better ones i have seen. No one is saying that ALL of Pakistan is like the characters or aspire to be. It is just a movie and the people in all honestly talk exactly like people do at all private schools and colleges!Recommend

  • Omair Zeeshan

    This is bovine excrement !!!!!! –> i hope this is not so bad that you have to censor it !!!Recommend

  • http://aamjanata.com Vidyut

    Release Slackistan in India, and you’ll soon be able to see it ;)Recommend

  • abdul

    They were stupid to think the movie would ever pass the censor board. They should have hired out venues and screened the movie themselves ages ago. Maybe they are just lazy and don’t want to put the work in.
    They must have known from the start the movie had no hope of being shown in cinema and are just trying to create more publicity by creating more controversy and hype around it.Recommend

  • sylar

    ive just checked. still no available torrents. a shame really… ive been waiting so longRecommend