Oscar-winning Indian film-maker Hemal Trivedi had disguised herself as a Muslim woman for a period of five years to shoot documentary on extremism in Pakistan. After winning accolades at 50 international film festivals, the documentary, Among The Believers, has been banned in Pakistan. By Karan Bhardwaj
Controversial documentary Among The Believers, which has been screened at over 50 international film festivals, has been banned in Pakistan. Directed by Oscar-winning Indian film-maker Hemal Trivedi, the documentary studies two different branches of education in Pakistan, revealing the extremism nourished at madrassas in Islamabad including the controversial Red Mosque (Lal Masjid). It also features a series of interviews with “one of the most feared men in Pakistan” and the main cleric of the Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz.
Among The Believers was scheduled to screen at Face Film Festival in Islamabad but was prevented by Pakistan’s censor board, the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC). In a notification issued by the CBFC, it stated that “the [production] contains dialogues which project the negative image of Pakistan in the context of the ongoing fight against extremism and terrorism.” It is reported that another film titled Besieged In Quetta, a production about the persecution and plight of the Hazara community in Pakistan, has also been banned at the film festival.
Hemal Trivedi, along with co-director of the documentary, Mohammed Ali Naqvi, have started a petition to revoke the ban. “We now fear that Among the Believers, and the critical issues it explores, may never reach the very audience it most needs to impact: the Pakistani people. That possibility is devastating. We spent five years building relationships with the film’s participants, gaining what Variety called “unprecedented access” to Maulana Abdul Aziz, the chief of the radical Red Mosque and its madrassa network. Our film shadows Aziz as he wages a war against the Pakistani government with the aim of imposing Shariah law throughout the country. It also chronicles the lives of two teenage students who are pawns in his ideological war, and showcases the brave Pakistani activists fighting to stop the spread of extremism,” the filmmakers jointly wrote in the petition.
Among the Believers has been shown in 50 film festivals in 25 countries and five continents, won 12 awards, and received near-universal acclaim from critics like the BBC, Washington Post and the Guardian.