A review on Pakistani feature length film, Joyland (2022). The controversial feature length debut is written and directed by Saim Sadiq. The film stars Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, and Salmaan Peerzada. The film centers around the Rana family as the head of the family yearns for the birth of another boy from his son, Haider. Joyland is distributed by Film Constellation.
- Directed by Saim Sadiq
- Written by Saim Sadiq and Maggie Briggs
- Cinematography by Joe Saade
- Edited by Saim Sadiq and Jasmin Tenucci
- Music by Abdullah Siddiqui
- Produced by Apoorva Guru Charan, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, Sabiha Sumar and Lauren Mann
Due to its thematic elements of a married man falling in love with a transgender woman, the film Joyland has received massive criticism from religious groups within Pakistan (believing it was against “Pakistani and Islamic values”). But on the other end of the spectrum, the film has met with critical success and has been screened in film festivals around the world. Even with immense pressure from the religious groups, the film was eventually released in some parts of Pakistan (while heavily edited due to its content). Joyland was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was short listed for Academy Awards for ‘Best Foreign Film’ but did not make the final five at the end.
+ Main Cast
- Ali Junejo as Haider
- Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz
- Alina Khan as Biba
- Sarwat Gilani as Nucchi
- Salmaan Peerzada as Rana Amanullah
- Sohail Sameer as Saleem
- Sania Saeed as Fayyaz
In the inner depths of Lahore, lives the Rana family where the father (Salmaan Peerzada) wants his son Haider (Ali Junejo) to provide him a grandson. But with his marriage falling apart, Haider meets a transgender dancer Biba (Alina Khan) and against all odds, falls in love.
+ High Points
i – With all the hype and controversies surrounding the film, Joyland is indeed one of the best Independent films Pakistan has ever produced. The film explores the underbelly of our society as it casts a light onto individuals who apparently “do not exist” or are not worthy of being Pakistani. Joyland is a quintessential character exploration drama where our protagonist Haider is being forced to abide with the patriarchy of his father and his forefathers; he must produce a son in order to keep his family lineage going. But Haider, on the other hand, is a gentle soul who lacks the courage to stand up to his father and break the patriarchal shackles once and for all. He is afraid as we all are in our society. Afraid to stand up for one’s self. Afraid to speak out against a blatant lie. Afraid to be just ourselves. With its subject matter, Joyland undoubtedly divides its audience to the core but it also accomplished work of art by being an essential introspective of our Pakistani society.
ii – The film has a talented cast of actors. The chemistry between the onscreen married couple; Haider and Mumtaz (played excellently by Rasti Farooq) brings a sense of dread and remorse to its viewers. Haider is incapable of giving her the love and attention that she deserves. Like many Pakistanis, he is forced to live the life that fate dictates him.
Whenever the actors share a scene together, Rasti and Ali bring out the best in each other. They laugh, make fun of each other but at the same time, cannot convey the claustrophobic sense of dread that is killing them from the inside. And that, in its own way, is poetic to the landscape of cinema.
iii – The chemistry between Bibi and Haider on the other hand is vastly different. Here, Haider finally has the chance to break away from the ever watchful eye of his father and become an individual that he did not even dared in his wildest dreams. But ever the pessimist, Haider’s joke of the mosquito and chicken falling in love and eventually dying of each other’s diseases set up the tone to the life Haider is accustomed to. He knows pursuing Biba is off limits and won’t end well for either of them.
Alina Khan as Biba is abrasive but honest in her performance. To implement one’s real life experiences of being a Transgender in a conservative society like Pakistan is never an easy task but Alina gives a fantastic performance as the dream girl for Haider. The woman who can force out the hidden rebellion out of him. Joyland thrives the most when both such contrasting chemistries play on screen and make the viewers understand just a little better where Haider comes from.
iv – The film is shot in an aspect ratio of 4:3 (which is more of an “equal box screen size”) and it plays an essential role for the film. The aspect ratio gives the cinematographer Joe Saade ample chance to create claustrophobic images which heightens the sense of unease and angst. Our characters at times want to break through the limited space of the frame, leap out of the screen and run towards a better, carefree future. Throughout the film, we get to witness numerous close ups of individual character heads as they feel trapped inside the images, yearning to escape. The director Saim Sadiq made an excellent decision with the aspect ratio which certainly paid off for the film.
v – There are some mesmerizing imagery in the film which bring a sense of fever dream at times. The scene where Biba and Haider share a drink in a room lit by the neon lights from the exterior was executed with perfection. Moving pictures are always visual narratives first and Saim Sadiq has a keen eye in presenting that without relying too much on spoken dialogues. The tone and the atmosphere that the film creates speaks volumes about our characters and what dystopian atmosphere they are forced to grow up in.
vi – But all is not doom and gloom. The actual “Joyland” scene of the film is the only time where we saw our characters (just for a brief period of time) forget their troubles, their hardships, their pessimistic futures disappear just so they can enjoy this one moment in time together. On the surface level, this scene might seem inconsequential but it was essential to the overall narrative of the film.
+ Low Points
Major SPOILERS ahead. If you would like to avoid it, please skip to Overall section:
i – Joyland unfortunately suffers from a shift of narrative half way through the film which did not work. The first half of the film focuses on Haider, his struggles with the expectations from the family, his forbidden romance with Biba and coming to terms with his sexuality. The second half focuses on Mumtaz, her need of attention from her husband, the unexpected pregnancy and the eventual suicide. I am not entirely sure why the narrative of the film was constructed in such a way as it would leave many viewers perplexed as to who the main character of the film is. The first half is about the forbidden love of Haider and the second half is the consequences on his wife because of it? Would she have committed suicide regardless of Haider’s affair? On one hand, the film wants us to root for Haider to embrace his sexuality but later on, the character of Biba and the love affair is completely ignored as the film decides to focus on Mumtaz who inadvertently becomes the main character of the film.
It’s great that the film shows the consequences of the decisions that our protagonist makes onto the supporting characters but by completely shifting the focus of our main character creates such a divide and leaves the viewers with a lingering thought of what they were supposed to take out from all this?
ii – The whole father’s love affair with the neighbor felt unnecessary and a distraction to the film’s main narrative. Yes, it showed that even hardliners of the family also do not like the patriarchal system that they have been brought up in but the whole scene felt like an afterthought to the main premise of the film.
Abrasive, cruel and an honest case study of our society, Joyland is a film that dawns a new light onto Pakistani cinema. An essential watch.
Rate: out of 5 stars