'I'll Meet You There' - But Audiences Are Still Waiting

'I'll Meet You There' - But Audiences Are Still Waiting
I’ll Meet You There is the brainchild of the critically acclaimed and incredibly talented filmmaker, writer and director Iram Parveen Bilal, co-produced under the banner of Sanat Initiative helmed by Abid Aziz Merchant. The film stars our country’s living legend Muhammad Qavi Khan Saab, Pakistani American star Faran Tahir and Nikita Tewani in the lead roles. The film weaves a very multi-layered narrative of a Muslim/American family spread across three generations. This movie was originally ready for release in 2020 but due to the pandemic it could not be released across theatres in Pakistan. As the entire world came to a sudden halt, “I’ll meet you there” was still widely screened across all the famous festivals (mostly virtually) in 2020 all the way into 2021.

In 2020, South by Southwest film festival was scheduled to be held in Austin, Texas. Out of almost 1,300 entries, I’ll Meet You There was selected to be nominated for the Grand Jury Award, but the event was cancelled due to the pandemic. IMUT was displayed in the Bentonville Film Festival which partners with Geena Davis institute on Gender. LA Pacific festival exhibited the film as well. Abigail Disney’s (Walt Disney’s grandniece) company Level Forward distributed the film and ran five virtual premiers in 2021, including a virtual red carpet which was attended by the cast and crew of the film.

It is clear that most of the well renowned and established film festivals recognised the full potential of the cinematic and creative work of this brilliant Pakistani team. Therefore, now in 2022 as the pandemic has settled and the cinema theatres are opening in Pakistan, this movie was all set to premier on 11th March 2022. The filmmakers felt that they would receive a good three-week window before the onset of the holy month of Ramadan next month. It was a well-planned strategy. And obviously, after receiving critical acclaim internationally, the film makers were looking forward to the premier in their homeland. The movie was shown to the distributors who unanimously agreed to its excellent quality content that had the potential to garner good viewership.
Just giving a blanket statement that the movie is against the social and cultural values of Pakistan is completely unfair - to not only the filmmakers, but also to the entire film fraternity and above all, to the thirsty audiences

Last month in February, the Sindh board passed the movie with a U-certificate without any cuts, which meant that the content of this movie was appropriate for all the age groups. After getting the green signal from the Sindh board, the movie was sent to the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) for review. Mr. Abid Aziz Merchant, the co-producer of the movie explained that the CBFC did not approve the movie and recommended a full board review of the movie. This process took additional two weeks. The producers are at the mercy of the board and had to hold off all their marketing and publicity campaigns, pending the approval by the board. With precious time running out, the CBFC signed the letter of banning the movie on 4th March 2022 but did not deliver it to the producers up until the 9th of March 2022, just two days before the theatrical release in Pakistan.

There was no intimation about why it was banned. There were no suggestions with respect to any edits for instance a change in the dialogue or muting the dialogue or cutting out a scene. None of these objections were raised and the movie was slaughtered with a ban on theatrical release in Pakistan. All advertising and publicity campaigns were called off because of the ban.

The CBFC bans the movie on the grounds that it does not reflect a true Pakistani culture, portrays a negative image of Muslims and is against the social and cultural values of Pakistan. In fact, all, the international platforms claimed it to have a very earthy reflection of Pakistan. My question to CBFC is: what is true Pakistani culture? Is it reflected in the likes of masala thumkaas, items number movies only? Not that I have anything against such movies. Entertainment and creativity are an individual’s own prerogative. Creativity is fluid and the only reason it should be policed is for the age-appropriate guidelines only. Had there been any inappropriate scene including any explicit content that’s not suitable for viewing by children, or any other objectional scene that hurts the sentiments of anyone belonging to any religion, caste, creed, or a minority group, then it would make sense to at least open a dialogue on the concerns and come up with solutions through minor cuts or muting of certain words (if necessary).

Just giving a blanket statement that the movie is against the social and cultural values of Pakistan is completely unfair - to not only the filmmakers, but also to the entire film fraternity and above all, to the thirsty audiences. Due to the pandemic, audiences have not been able to see movies in the theatre for almost two years. Now that those doors are finally open, the audiences want to see the content coming out from their own home ground. A movie is an expensive undertaking. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into making a movie. In the absence of any governmental support, and availability of limited funds, film makers struggle heavily to produce a film. Due to the pandemic, our film industry has suffered a lot, lost out on potential business opportunities and overall, there was an air of melancholy due to lack of work and overall strength.

Now with the theatres finally open, the industry wants to come forward in full strength and wants to see their labor of love to be appreciated. And when that opportunity of enjoying the return on your investment is badly slashed by the axe of censor boards, imagine how brutally unfair is it to the entire cast and crew of the movie who have invested a considerable amount of their time, efforts, and money on the project. Not only is their current work victimised but also their future work opportunities loom in uncertainty as well. This way our own home-grown industry suffers that is already trying to stay afloat amid growing inflation, censorship, and pandemic related problems.

It was so heartening to see that the Pakistani movie I’ll Meet You There was received by all the international film festivals wherever it was displayed with a lot of warmth and love. But when it was time to be premiered in our own country, it was banned. Those in charge of these matters need to understand that Culture is not a very one-dimensional concept. It runs through multiple shades of norms, historical background, current scenarios, future expectations, our personal and individual growth mechanisms, and our internal and external environments. All these factors shape our behavioral patterns, life choices and experiences and that’s how culture comes into being. Individuals regardless of their religion have complex psyches, defined by their eco-systems and their upbringing. Then how is it that Muslims are the only ones conveying a negative image (for argument’s sake even). However, that is not the case in the movie. After watching it, one can easily deduce how ridiculously wrong are all these grounds.

Pakistanis living in US, UK, Canada, Australia, and the Middle East, all belong to the same culture that identifies them as a Pakistani and their core culture and norms react to these outside stimuli to create varied shades in their core cultures. Are they not Pakistani enough? Its highly pretentious and wrong to assume that their culture is not Pakistani. If they deviate in their lifestyle’s choices, should they be labelled as portraying a negative image. Look at the varied Pakistanis living in the country itself. There are some that do not reflect the typical Muslim traits but are they not still termed as Muslims? Then how does a story of an immigrant family become termed as a negative image of Muslims?

The ban culture in Pakistan has been roaring for quite some time now. Initially, Sarmad Khoosat’s much-awaited Zindagi Tamasha that was originally planned to release in Jan 2020 was banned. A few days back, it was the talk of the town again that it would finally see the light of the day. But on March 10th, the release of the movie was again postponed. Earlier this year, Javed Iqbal: Untold Story of a Serial Killer was stopped by the Punjab censorship board. This ban parade needs to end.

I’ll Meet You There is available for viewing on Amazon. After watching it, I felt immense pride in this brilliant piece of art. Not only was I entertained but also it had significant messaging presented throughout the movie. Iram Parween Bilal beautifully presents this narrative. The cast has delivered a stellar performance while keeping a very fluid chemistry between all the lead and supporting cast intact. The background music fully compliments the flow of the scenes in the story telling. Qavi Sb is so loveable as the doting grandfather, Baba who wants to save his religious values and pass those onto his American born granddaughter all the while navigating through the delicate hurdles of generational gaps. Faran Tahir suits perfectly in the role of the duty-bound American cop, Majeed with a tough exterior battling personal demons as well his strained relationship with his very desi and religious Dad. Last but not the least is the feisty, confident Dua that is conflicted by her passion for dance and her newfound discovery of her relationship with the Holy Quran. This role could have gone haywire, but Iram has handled it with utmost intelligence and sensitivity, with Nikita Tewani essaying the role of Dua with full conviction and sincerity.

When the movie ended, I wanted to clap and applause the efforts of the entire team. I wished that I had gotten a chance to do so in a movie theatre with my friends and family.