Maalik movie: What the Pakistan government ban tells us

Movie poster Image copyright Maalik Movie/Facebook
Image caption The film has touched a nerve

The Pakistani government has taken the rare step of directly banning a film, dividing public debate and sparking cries of censorship, reports BBC Urdu's Nosheen Abbas.

Maalik, which had already been playing in cinemas, was declared "uncertified for the whole of Pakistan" by the ministry of information this week.

Previous bans on films have come from provincial censorship boards. In this case the creators say they don't know why the government itself intervened.

But the authorities' move reveals something about the current environment in Pakistan.

What is the film about?

Maalik tells the story of a former special services commando hired to protect a corrupt feudal lord who has risen to become chief minister.

Who has it offended?

Everyone for different reasons.

The chief minister character (called saaeen - the Sindhi word to indicate a person of influence) is very similar, some say, to the present chief minister of Sindh province, including being of the same ethnicity. An unnamed ministry official told The Express Tribune the film had been banned because it shows a former chief minister as a man of corruption and opulence.

Image copyright Maalik Movie/Facebook
Image caption Actor/director Ashir Azeem has defended his film on Twitter after comments from politicians and other high-profile people

The current chief minister's daughter and parliamentarian Nafisa Shah said on Twitter: "Maalik' is an ill conceived film will only divide Pakistan&harm national unity. The filmmakers, financiers &even censors cannot be patriots."

The parts of the movie that show government officials are deeply divisive, with some saying it amounts to military propaganda - while others think it makes the civil government look like it's not serious about tackling terrorism.

Other complaints stem from a scene where the chief minister is shot by his guard, which has parallels to the real-life killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer - which deeply divided the nation. Some think the film is promoting vigilantism.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that this film has touched a nerve with authorities with its depiction of politicians and ethnic stereotyping.

The strong reaction to this film on social media suggests that the film plays to the already divisive view of the civil-military dynamic in the country and is perceived to be deepening the divide.

Authorities in Pakistan are very concerned with how they are perceived, especially abroad. Whereas this might be considered an overreaction in some countries, it has become the go-to method for the authorities to ban content they deem offensive or controversial.

But others still feel no matter what the film depicts, banning it amounts to censorship.

Freedom of speech is already under pressure in Pakistan, with many journalists, analysts and commentators feeling that there are some topics, including religion and the military, that you just can't touch- and that leads to what some call a culture of self-censorship.

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