Joyland and how our art and stories are always an integral telling of our identities.

In the wake of the smear campaign against Joyland, Pakistan's official entry to this year's Oscar's, it's integral to consider how historically, South Asian stories have been our strongest connection to self.

Joyland describes itself as a film that 'delves deep into the challenging complexities of desire and gender identity through the lens of the Rana family'. It was banned from being released in Pakistan and then unbanned and then banned again, but more on that later.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe first spoke of how storytelling helps us through history: 'We lack imagination. If we had enough imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of the person we oppress, things would begin to happen. So it is important that we develop the ability to listen to the weak.' And today, this quote is more relevant than ever. We need to be able to empathise in order to grow and for me, the greatest learning device for empathy-building has always been a reliance on storytelling.

To scan one's own self to find the true meaning of identity is also to observe globalisation and how it leads to the homogenisation of cultural identities. Yes, we live in a multicultural landscape and yet, really understanding the implications of it are lost upon us most of the time. I grew up solely reading fiction from the West and it wasn't until I was about 15 that I immersed myself in South Asian fiction. Here lies a world where I can connect with the main character. My people - the protagonists. My city - the centre. But I still didn't quite fathom the extent to which my surroundings impact my identity (however fluid and changeable) and sense of self.

Contemplating the way fiction connects with identity, writer Taha Kehar told Images, 'The South Asian identity seems to have become a prisoner to the foreign gaze. Readers often complain that they struggle to find an authentic depiction of South Asian identity in English fiction from the region.'

They're not referring to stereotypical representations of mangoes, peacocks, terrorism and strife, he said. 'Instead, they're voicing their concerns about the cardboard cutouts who act as unworthy substitutes for realistic, complex characters from South Asia. Most readers want to read about full-blooded people - regardless of whether they're good or bad - who they are likely to encounter in their surroundings. Writers need to fulfil readers' expectations and create strong, credible and meaningful characters.'

As a fiction writer...

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