Seven to eight hours past since I left the cinema hall and I still feel gripped in the world of “Joyland”. Touching upon the themes of patriarchy, desire, trans-phobia and more, the movie is a reflection of Pakistani society in its most raw and truly honest form.
Contrary to the name ‘’Joyland’’, the lives of characters in the movie are quite devoid of joy where they are seen conforming to find acceptance, giving up on their passions to submit to the patriarchy and suppressing desires to fall prey to the norms. The movie showcases the misery they go through while fighting off all this and battling their own confusions. What happens when they feel suffocated by the mold that they are asked to fit in, when they cannot break the barrier and overcome the taboos, what agitation they go through? What it can make them do? Do they live by it? Do they rebel? Or do they die of it? All these questions and the journey of finding their answers is what constitutes the grating world of “Joyland”.
You might be thinking of the preamble with reference to the much talked about relationship being depicted in the film but that’s not entirely the case, there is so much more to the movie than that. Set in Lahore, the storyline of ‘’Joyland’’ revolves around a conservative middle class family with two sons named Haider (played by Ali Junejo) and Saleem (played by Sohail Sameer). The younger of the two, Haider- a sensitive person, a feminist to his wife and a house-husband unlike his brother, a hegemonic masculinity personified, is struggling to find a job since years and is seen helping off his bhabi Nucchi (played by Sarwat Gillani) in household chores, taking care of her kids and is often humiliated at the hands of his father and elder brother. His wife Mumtaz (played by Rasti Farooqi) works at a local Salon, is passionate about her work and she simply doesn’t have what it takes to be an ordinary housewife. Haider, through a friend, ends up finding work at a local theater as a background dancer. It’s there that he comes across Biba- a headstrong trans who is a passionate dancer and is striving to make a name for herself in a theatre industry that is dominated by female “heroines”. Biba knows how to speak for herself and holds guts to punch those who mess with her while still being vulnerable and messed up.
How these characters influence each other’s life, both in good and bad ways, results in a story that is as real as life itself. The movie so meticulously showcases the joy, beauty and power in the human relations, how they can be a solace in times of vulnerability, how people act as a home for each other when the world feels like a war zone, through some nuanced bonds like that of Haider and Mumtaz, of Biba and Haider, of Nuchi and Mumtaz and that of Rana Amanullah (played by Salman Peerzada) and Fayyaz (Sania Saeed). Also exhibiting the flipside where humans turn the world into an excruciating place for by not allowing people to be their true selves, forcing decisions onto them, moral policing them rather than showing empathy, being insensitive towards the marginalized groups and more. It comes as a hard hitting reality check, a mirror to reflect upon and think over.
All the actors despite being fresh to the big screen, except for a few, deliver memorable performances, Be it Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq or the real life trans actor Alina Khan, all have portrayed the characters to perfection. Sania Saeed in her limited role is amazing as always and Sarwat Gilani and Sohail Sameer bring life to their roles. Acting remains one of the strongest sides of the film as even the supporting actors (mostly were seen for the first time in a film or TV project) who are there for just few seconds are as good as the lead cast. Saim Sadiq as director gives a breakthrough debut; his attention to detail and his absolute hold on storytelling guarantees his name among the leading directors of this new wave of Pakistani cinema who can be counted on to re-define local cinema in the years to come.
The film, a bit slow in the beginning, builds up gradually and keeps you engaged throughout with the sensitively woven and equally interesting characters, water-tight screenplay and a decentralized story telling, leaving you heart broken, stunned and looking beyond the surface of things by the time the credits roll. Being already selected as the Oscar submission for 2022 from Pakistan and seen as a favorite to make it to the initial short listing, we won’t be surprised if it manages to become the first feature film to bag an Oscar nomination (or even an award) from Pakistan, fingers crossed!
The only thing that might take away your film watching experience is the ruthless censor cuts, beeps and the blur scenes (even husband-wife hug in a scene is blurred) that defies logic most of the times and botches the otherwise smooth storytelling. But you are still able to make the most out of this censored version and this certainly appears to be a better option at the moment instead of banning the films, until we come up with a film classification system.
“Joyland” is a MUST WATCH. One that we can proudly call “ours’’, one that is bound to become a part of us for years to come. For those curious to find out, the movie by no means promotes homosexuality or glorifies any kind of infidelity. We recommend you to watch the movie and find for yourself rather than cancelling it based on the preconceived notions. It’s definitely an un-miss-able experience!