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Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, director of “Zindagi Tamasha” (“Circus of Life”), has weathered an annus horribilis and is now gearing up for his film’s 2021 Oscars campaign.

It has been a dramatic 12 months for Khoosat. On Jan. 21, 2020, he was on top of the world. The film had had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in 2019, where it won the prestigious Kim Ji-seok award, and it had since cleared Pakistan’s various censor boards, ready for a Jan. 24 local release. On Jan. 21 however, the federal government of Pakistan sent word that the release had to be postponed and the film must be sent for review to the Council of Islamic Ideology.

Set in Lahore, the film chronicles the chaos that ensues in the life of a staid, devout and elderly man when a video featuring him dancing to a 1974 Lollywood (Pakistan’s mainstream film industry) number gets uploaded onto social media without his knowledge and goes viral.

A trailer for the film ruffled feathers amongst the ultra-conservative in Pakistan and Khoosat received anonymous death threats. Pakistan’s Senate Committee for Human Rights approved the film’s release in July 2020, but by then the country was dealing with COVID-19 outbreak and the film did not receive a theatrical release. Because of the Academy’s extended pandemic period guidelines, the film qualified for the international feature category by dint of a Vimeo release geo-blocked to Pakistan.

Ironically, Khoosat based the film on a real-life YouTube video where images of a Pakistani man dancing and apologizing for it are juxtaposed side-by-side.

“The basic inspiration for the film did come from just real content that is online and I felt so bad on behalf of that poor guy – he just danced, he’s not doing anything,” Khoosat told Variety.

“We still find effeminate men funny in this part of the world, we crack jokes about people not being completely conformist, how people stand, how they walk, how they talk, it’s still the butt of jokes,” says Khoosat.

Apprehensive of danger to his crew members, Khoosat had stopped talking about the film, ‘buried it’ as he puts it, until Pakistan chose it as its Oscar entry.

“I’ve made the film, whatever it is, it’s out there now. It’s a very honest and slightly different representation of Pakistan, where (previously) it’s been big bold, angry topics. This is not an angry film,” says Khoosat. “It does talk about all sorts of minorities and it talks about social media and the monster that it is.”

Khoosat and his team are working towards making the film visible internationally at the moment.

Meanwhile, as revealed by Variety, Khoosat’s next film is tragic love story “Kamli.” It stars Pakistani superstar Saba Qamar (“Hindi Medium”), Sania Saeed (“Manto”), Nimra Bucha (“Ms. Marvel”) and Hamza Khwaja.