Plot : Haider has indeed been jobless for a while as Mumtaz pursues her work as a beautician. Haider daydreams. He falls well short of the standards set for him by his huge traditional Pakistani family because he has neither a job nor children. Haider’s life takes a surprising turn when he is unintentionally employed as a backup dancer in the vivacious transgender dancer Biba’s show one day. From their first curiosity, a forbidden yet lovely romance quickly grows between the two. Director Saim Sadiq delivers an explosive love tale against the backdrop of a patriarchal societal structure in his multidimensional debut film, JOYLAND.
Cast : Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Salmaan Peerzada, Sohail Sameer, Sania Saeed, Ali Junejo
Director : Saim Sadiq
Language : Urdu
Ratings : ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Review : In ‘Joyland’, discouraged personas and taboo desires slowly come into the open, but unlike in many coming-out dramas, there is no clear antagonist or oppressor — simply an unsettling world going through its own societal and generational upheaval. In his Lahore-set home melodrama of secrets, deceit, and unexpected self-discovery, Pakistani writer-director Saim Sadiq treats everyone with thoughtful fairness, yet it never seems to be hedging its bets or avoiding harsher truths. This is nuanced, humane queer filmmaking that is tartly funny and deeply sad in equal measure, more interested in the textures and particulars of its own intimate story than with larger social statements — even though, as a story of transgender urge in a Muslim country, its very premise makes it problematic.
As the first Pakistani production to ever premiere in the official shortlisting at Cannes, “Joyland” came into the festival as something of a milestone, but it quickly won over audiences on its own tasty merits, winning the runner-up Grand Prix in Un Certain Regard and defeating Lukas Dhont’s Competition breakout “Close” to the Queer Palme award. The film’s new, sympathetic cultural perspective on the subject provides it worldwide currency at a time when transgender lives and rights are very much in the public dialogue. This guarantees extensive future festival play and arthouse distribution, not only in the LGBTQ category.
But at its core, this is a sensitively observed, deeply felt family drama that doesn’t seek to represent any particular group as a whole and really benefits from Ali Junejo’s warm, slightly messy appeal in the lead role. He portrays Haider, the tenacious younger son of the struggling, turbulent, but close-knit Rana family, who live in the same large townhouse in the heart of Lahore. He has taken a bride, the intelligent, self-sufficient Mumtaz (a great Rasti Farooq), but otherwise hasn’t lived up to the expectations of his traditional father. He is a gorgeous, imaginative daydreamer who hasn’t yet discovered his calling in life (Salmaan Peerzada).
Haider and Mumtaz are still childless, and he hasn’t had a work in years, unlike his alpha-male older brother Kaleem (Sohail Sameer), who is waiting for his first kid and is expecting his fourth child with wife Nucchi (Sarwat Gilani). Rather, Mumtaz takes on the job of the breadwinner whereas Haider happily plays the homemaker (and amusingly looks after his three nieces). This is just one example of how their genuinely loving but apathetic marriage violates social expectations. Through a friend, he eventually finds work, although it’s not the conventionally respectable kind: He is employed as a supporting dancer at a nearby nightclub for transgender performer Biba (Alina Khan), despite having no talent in the terpsichorean department.
The club’s strong position floor displays, despite being advertised as “erotic,” don’t exactly raise eyebrows by Western standards: The vividly produced, sequin-adorned, Bollywood-meets-RuPaul dance moments in the movie are definitely some of its upbeat highlights. Even yet, it’s scandalous enough that Haider tells his family he works as a stage manager when in reality he manages plays. Needless to say, his growing intimacy with Biba, who encourages him to loosen both his hips and his sensitivities, is also completely confidential. However, as their relationship develops, his foolish notions about sexuality stand awkwardly between them. In contrast to treating their friendship as some sort of revelatory, all-curing lightning bolt, Sadiq’s funny, insightful script views it as a litmus test for everything that this kind but conflicted young guy still needs to discover about himself and others.
When Biba is not in the gleaming spotlight, she is presented as a whole, worn-out figure, which helps. Trans actor Khan is fantastic, building on a position that she first played in Sadiq’s Venice-winning 2019 blueprint short “Darling.” She adds a touch of saltiness when necessary and reveals the many layered defences necessary to survive as a trans woman in a society that is largely intolerant, rigidly patriarchal, and bound by religion. In “Joyland,” no female character is portrayed in an arrogant manner. Mumtaz and Nucchi have inner lives and urges of their own even when they are not in the protagonist’s circle; in a beautiful sequence, they both find release at the garish neon fairground that gives the movie its name.
Nevertheless, that emerging DP isn’t only found in such candy-colored settings. Joe Saade (Broken Keys, Costa Brava, Lebanon) is on the lookout for light. Even seemingly dull home sequences are distinguished by shining jewel tones—the palette appearing to take its lead from the highly coloured silks of the women’s wardrobe—and shimmering light-play, a visual hint of the more luxurious lives everyone in this yearning drama seeks. In one touching scene, a cheap neon-green LED light, even in Biba’s run-down flat, acquires mystical characteristics, its tacky rays skittering across lovers’ faces like a moving constellation. Meanwhile, the illustration of Haider riding a moped around town with a huge cardboard stand-in of Biba exemplifies Sadiq’s visual wit best.
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