Friday, April 14, 2023

Joyland: A Cinematic Rejoice from Pakistan

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Joyland” is an intimate allegory of love, despair, and melancholia. A triumph in Pakistani Cinema.

“Joyland” moves consciences on so many levels as a painful coming-of-age story and a mirror of society that denies the fundamental rights of inclusion, freedom of speech, and equal opportunities for all, including those who may think outside the box. In life, we tend to generalize and level anyone, when instead, we must analyze and assess every subject individually as an essential part of the community.

The film centers on Haider Rana (Ali Junejo) and his conservative family. He lives with his wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), his father, his mother, and his elder brother’s family in Lahore, Pakistan. 

Haider is an unemployed and hard-working timid guy who gets a job as a backup dancer in a Bollywood-style burlesque. Soon, the helpful and naïve man becomes infatuated with Biba (Alina Khan), a glittered trans woman who runs a show in a nearby theater. As things get complicated, Haider must emerge unharmed from his double life.

Biba tells Haider 
an innocent but meaningful joke – “The chicken and the mosquito shared a kiss. Then, the mosquito died of bird flu... the chicken died of dengue.” Then, she explains herself: “Because falling in love means death.” The joke is related to those two main and opposite characters, the religious married man and the openly gay transgender person seeking freedom in a conservative society with orthodox laws.

“Joyland” is an accomplished and flashy production that centers on three central and unique characters: Haider, Mumtaz, and Biba.
For Haider, his family is as important as the show’s success. He takes Biba’s safety personally and his family’s well-being equally, but in real-time, it is not easy to balance everything out.

Mumtaz is emotionally unstable. She wants to be pregnant but questions her husband’s job due to his notorious absences.

Biba’s multidimensional character is not sugar-coated nor pretends to be cute. She is an energetic, confident, and trustworthy trans woman who wants to get out and emigrate to Germany. Her honesty makes her reject those who care for her, including Haider. Alina Khan’s performance is as good as Daniela Vega’s in the Award-winning Chilean film “A Fantastic Woman.”

What is more striking about this moving production is that for all the extraordinary actors who participated in the film, it was their first experience acting in movies.

 Saim Sadiq, "Joyland." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © FestivalinLA
First-time writer-director Saim Sadiq said that “Joyland” is a very personal work because he comes from a diverse, middle-class family who is also looking to climb up the social ladder, as the characters in his movie. But he also had to acknowledge that people in Pakistan live in a patriarchal society that sets boundaries for progress, love, and desires.
Director Saim Sadiq wrote an honest and objective script, keeping the “trans” theme and social conflict consistent, creating a solid dramatic arch and an open ending.
Politically speaking, Saim knows all about the power of the extreme right-wing in his country and how his work will upset manySaim said that after showing his controversial film in Pakistan, he was not expecting everybody to come out of the movie theater and hug him. But his film allows people to enjoy, assimilate, and keep thinking about.

The highly acclimated Pakistani work transcends with winds of freedom and acceptance.

Joyland” is the winner of the Jury Award of Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2022It won Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards 2023 and Best Artistic Contribution at the Cairo International Film Festival in Egypt. The acclaimed film won Best Ensemble in Bangkok and the Audience Award at the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain.

“Joyland” was the Pakistani entry for Best International Feature Film for the 95th Academy Awards and was one of the fifteen shortlisted films. 

The unexpected twists and turns of “Joyland” take us to places we have not been before. The movie’s rich urban scenarios, colors, and textures, combined with powerful storytelling, enhance the cinematic experience and immerse the viewer deeply in the story. 

More importantly, the representation of the vibrant Pakistani youth who work hard and want to naturally explore outside their family’s nucleus to new horizons without social restraint. 

In “Joyland,” every character desperately wants to feel accepted, loved, and respected as audiences witness the struggle, beauty, and diversity of Pakistani society and every community around the globe.


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