Pakistan has banned the theatrical release of a comedy about Osama bin Laden due to hit cinema screens in South Asia on Friday. Local movie distributors say they are appealing the ban, issued by the Pakistan Film Censor Board.
The film, "Tere bin Laden," [Your bin Laden] stars Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar as an ambitious young journalist trying to land the scoop of a lifetime as a way to win a visa to live in the United States.
Made in the India's Bollywood "movie factory", it's a departure from the melodramas and musicals which dominate Indian cinematic fare. It’s also unusual in that it has a Pakistani in the starring role.
The trailer for "Tere bin Laden" suggests a movie of fast-paced slapstick comedy, and shows Zafar trying to coax an anxious and utterly inept bin Laden look-alike to impersonate the al Qaeda leader.
"You have a million-dollar face," he pleads, but the whole scheme spirals out of control when a video they make is taken seriously by the U.S. government.
The movie is the directorial debut of Abhishek Sharma, who calls it a “mad comedy.”
Pakistani officials expressed concern that the characterization of bin Laden could incite terrorism in a country that already has more than its share of political violence. Masood Elahi, vice chairman of the Censor Board, is quoted by local media as saying: "There was no justification to release the film in Pakistan under the present circumstances.” Film distributor Khalid Pervez told CNN that the distributors’ appeal will be heard Friday.
Zafar told the Pakistani news network Geo TV that he was disappointed by the ban. "I wanted that people should go to the cinema and enjoy this movie," he said.
Many cinemas in Pakistan have been driven out of business by a thriving black market in pirated DVDs, so the impact of the ban may not be that great. Pakistanis who really want to see “Tere bin Laden” will be able to pick it up within days.
Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report