Saim Sadiq touches on a controversial topic and patriarchal structures that strongly dominate the country of Pakistan, and this is in line with his previous accomplished short “Darling”, which won the Orizzonti Competition in Venice 2019. The movie stars Ali Junejo as Haider, a young man living according to tradition who loves dancing to the tunes of his father’s music and his elder brother Saleem (Sohail Sameer), “Joyland” speaks of repressed desires of both sexes and strongly divided gender roles, and a never ending chain of compromises someone who doesn’t fit into such image has to make.
Haider lives in an arranged marriage with his wife Mumtaz which is played brilliantly by Rasti Farooq. She is an intelligent woman who married with the condition that she would be allowed to work and make her own money which surprisingly is not a common feat living in Pakistan. The arrangment works fine until the moment Haider gets a job as a dancer in one of the city’s most frivilous clubs, in an artistic troup headed by the transgender woman Biba played by Alina Khan. He tells his family that he is just a stage manager and hides what he actually does. This is the moment where he realizes the confusion that takes over his identity.
Although the story revolves around the main character Haider and his discovery of the world he wasn’t aware of until he unexpectedly stepped into it, the film bravely explores many aspects of the Pakistani society through a chain of events happening in this one particular family. Saim Sadiq shows the everyday life and struggle of a Pakistani in details through his vision.
“Joyland” is the sum of many finely interwoven tragic stories. The script is very brave and bold for its depiction of sexual awakening, involving some scenes never seen before in a Pakistani movie which has created the controversies leading up to banning of the movie, but at the same time it approaches its characters with lots of respect that they deserve. Khan steals the show every time she appears on the screen in her emotionally charged role as free spirited Biba who fights to be accepted as a woman.
The feature debut by Saim Sadiq will be remembered as one of the strongest contenders of this year’s eye opening movies which touches on subjects that are avoided in the mainstream but yet might wander in the back of most people’s mind. This movie is a definite watch to see the other side of Pakistan that has been repressed and hidden away. We can’t turn a blind eye towards something that is happening in front of us and pretend it is not an issue.