Opening 9 Nov 2023
Pakistani writer-director Saim Sadiq’s feature debut, Joyland, is as simple, and complex as a patriarchal joint family. In Lahore’s conservative metropolis three generations of life-energy are squeezed into a mid-lower-class dwelling. Younger son Haider is (Ali Junejo) the Ranas ménage “househusband,” keeping everything happily on keel although underappreciated by older brother Saleem (Sohail Sameer) whose wife Nucchi (Sarwat Gilani) awaits the birth of their fourth child. Haider’s wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), on the other hand, works at a job she enjoys, much to father-in-law Amanullah’s (Salmaan Peerzada) chagrin. Mumtaz and Haider may be childless—oftentimes a niece crawls into their bed at night—yet share a sweet love and trusting friendship. Expectations are high that Nucchi, inshallah (God willing), will give birth to the long-awaited son to carry on the family name.
Haider’s buddy Qasim (Muhammad Usman Malik) takes him along to tryouts and he get the backup dancer job at Joyland amusement park's exotic theater-of-sorts. Ferociously competitive, Biba (Alina Khan) performs bi-monthly; Haider is immediately infatuated with the brash trans woman. He tells Mumtaz about the job, who delightedly tells the family since Haider’s been unemployed for so long. Considering Haider’s pay, Aman grants permission. Nucchi cleverly reminds everyone she needs help; Saleem adds familial pressure. Mumtaz fights to keep working but is decisively overruled by the patriarch. The ensuing three-way discussion is lost on the glum, silent couple. Unexpectedly, Biba notices Haider’s attentions, reciprocates and a romance-of-sorts flourishes. And not without consequences within the Ranas home: Mumtaz is much more observant and intuitive than given credit for; Haider’s naiveté makes him unmindful of his surroundings; the sharp-eyed neighbor Fayyaz (Sania Saeed) sees an opening, and pervasive discord enters the household. None see what is in plain sight.
The cast deliver amazing performances of complex characters whose stringently prescribed cultural practices pit family members against one another, and smother open discourse. Whereas Haider’s virility is questioned, red-blooded Saleem’s maleness, leaning toward chauvinism, is championed by their patriarch father—watch Peerzada’s depiction carefully. Haider’s feelings for Biba smack of rebellion, to the point of ignoring Mumtaz and that wavering love is what thwarts her. She reaches out to Nucchi and is ignored, but not forgotten. “Where there’s life there’s hope.”
Joe Saade’s subtle camerawork contributes to poignant visual coherency; co-writer is Maggie Briggs. Jasmin Tenucci and Saim Sadiq’s sound editing is expressive and complimented by Abdullah Siddiqui’s score. Joyland premiered at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, won plus the Queer Palm, and was shortlisted for the 2023 Academy Awards. According to Saim Sadiq, “Joyland is de-romanticization of a coming-of-age tale and a homage to all the women, men, and trans people who pay the human cost of patriarchy.” (Marinell Haegelin)