Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, another Pakistani film has joined the ranks of several other movies that Pakistan’s censor boards have withheld in recent times. The damage inflicted on the industry by the pandemic may eventually be recovered. Still, the biggest impediment to the success of films and the industry at large—the government’s censor boards and their arbitrary standards of banning—remain.

This Eid, the victim is the film Lafangey, which has been withheld by Punjab and Sindh censors allegedly for its “objectionable content, vulgar and double meaning language.” One film being banned in an industry where a total of six or seven films are released, is one too many and calls for introspection of the law, however, what is outrageous is that Lafangey is far from the first film of the year to be banned. Last Eid a few months ago, the government banned the release of more than three, on vague and arbitrary grounds.

Making a film means an investment of millions of rupees, employment of hundreds of people and even one film is a crucial contribution to the yet lacking cinema culture of the country. The banning of films without substantial reasons or detailing which scenes are offensive and why can eliminate whatever film culture remains in Pakistan, which can be a serious blow to our soft image and our arts. The problem originates from the law, the Motion Pictures Ordinance, 1979, that declares a film unsuitable for certification if the film violates “decency or morality”, but does not care to define what those terms mean, leaving the decision of deciding which content is unsuitable at the complete whims of the government. Moreover, a film doesn’t just need to get the approval of one censor body; any of the four censor boards can object to the film for flimsy reasons.

In the budget announced in June, the government, by allocating amounts to the film industry, had attempted to rejuvenate the cultural scene. However, these allocations will be a waste of money if the government does not get rid of the red tape and the arbitrary over-exercise of power by censor boards. If Pakistan ever means to have the country’s film industry match up to the soft power of Hollywood and Bollywood, the government needs to allow the film industry space, as well as a good business environment. The censor boards need to be done away with, and there needs to be a focus on industry-driven regulations on what is appropriate.