- Joyland challenges patriarchal norms in Pakistan, exploring themes of self-identity and desire through the character of Haider and his journey of personal liberation.
- The film emphasizes the female experience within traditional communities, highlighting the struggles faced by women like Mumtaz, who are forced to conform to society’s expectations and sacrifice their autonomy.
- Joyland also sheds light on the difficulties faced by the trans community in Pakistan, with the character of Biba representing the objectification and violence that trans people often experience, while also embodying strength and defiance.
Sometimes serene, other times treacherous, the ocean functions as a leitmotif of liberation in everything Joyland, serving as a poetic allusion to all the beauty and tragedy contained in the film and its richly constructed characters. Initially presented to the public in the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, where it was the first Pakistani film to compete in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, Joyland is the fantastic film debut of the 32-year-old filmmaker Saim Sadiq. As we celebrate the director’s birthplace, Lahore, and examine the city’s predominantly traditional values, Joyland challenges ancient patriarchal conventions of Pakistan through a magnificent exploration of self-identity and desire.
The most followed character in Joyland is Haider Rana (Or junejo), who lives under his father’s narrow roof with his wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), along with his older brother and his family. Unemployed, twenty-something Haider is constantly pressured by his father and her brother to get a job so that Mumtaz can leave her career and take on the domestic duties that come with the custom of being a woman in the culture of she. Haider eventually gets a job as Biba’s backup dancer (Alina Khan), a transgender woman with a Bollywood-style show, and opens up to a part of himself that has remained dormant his entire life. Haider slowly falls in love with Biba and begins to ignore his own family responsibilities to enter a world of individuality and passion that has been unlocked by Biba’s magnetic essence. Oscillating between great individual freedom and the limitations of a rigid society, Joyland delves with surprising nuance into a story of personal desire stifled by conventional expectations.
‘Joyland’ emphasizes the female experience within traditional communities
While Haider carries much of the narrative focus in Joyland, Sadiq’s script, co-written with Maggie Briggs, is able to delve into the nuanced perspective of many of its characters, particularly through the challenges they face in following or rejecting gender and sexuality rituals within their culture. This multifaceted approach to the film’s themes allows it to paint a broader picture of the expectations of today’s Pakistani society. Aside from Haider’s male point of view, the film devotes a lot of time and attention to the female perspective, delving into women who face very different obstacles as they navigate a community where patriarchal forces still ignore them. Despite their different situations, there is a line to connect all women in Joyland together; They all struggle with the immense expectations placed on them to fulfill the roles of tradition and duty imposed upon them by their society.
The characters of Mumtaz and Biba offer JoylandThe richest and most painful explorations of the female experience in Pakistan. While the film doesn’t get bogged down in exposition, it quickly becomes apparent that Mumtaz and Haider have been married for some time, and the anxiety that they have yet to have children is imposed on them by those orbiting their lives. While Haider is unemployed, Mumtaz works as a makeup artist, bringing a lot of joy and independence to her life, choosing to focus on her career instead of settling down. After Haider is hired as Biba’s backup dancer, Mumtaz is essentially forced to leave her job by her father-in-law, whom Haider passively supports for fear of further frustrating her family. Stripped of the only thing that gave her autonomy, Mumtaz unhappily adapts to the role of housewife and isolates herself from her own spirit.
Life becomes bleaker for Mumtaz when she finds out she is pregnant, especially as Haider becomes more entrenched in his secret world with Biba. Everyone congratulates Mumtaz on the upcoming baby, but Mumtaz is far from happy with the situation, oscillating between emotions that he must internalize out of concern for distressing those around her. Mumtaz sinks deeper and deeper as she loses control of his own life. While there is as much compassion accumulated from the audience’s perspective as Joyland rushes towards its emotional ending, Mumtaz feels like the character the viewer can sympathize with the most. Her point of view is almost that of a flower that withers before our eyes, a woman who must lose her freedoms to become the wife and mother that the world demands she be. Mumtaz’s experience is that of a marginalized woman bound by tradition, a point of view that feels specific to the cultural landscape of Joyland and at the same time open up to the events of women around the world who are still subject to patriarchal standards.
‘Joyland’ shows the difficulties of being trans in Pakistan
Biba serves as a female foil to Mumtaz’s character. Biba, a trans woman living within the limitations of a conservative society, faces the objectification and fetishization that many trans identities face in all corners of the world. However, her character has an inherent power and challenge that allows her to take on the world, never allowing her to be distracted from becoming the person she wants to be. Haider’s first interaction with Biba occurs in a hospital, where she is shown walking down a gloomy hallway covered in blood. It later emerged that she was there with one of her trans classmates, who was shot dead by a man before Biba’s eyes.
This violent allusion speaks volumes to the real-life danger that trans communities experience every day. Biba’s work as an exotic dancer imbues her with another level of subversive force, giving her a stage to harness her own creative spirit and share it with the world on her own terms. Haider is greatly impacted by Biba’s freedom and her commanding presence, which helps him discover her true desires. Following Biba like a lost puppy, Haider eventually makes amends for his own misunderstanding of Biba’s identity, which, in many ways, is shrouded in misunderstanding and misogyny. Haider uses Biba as a catalyst to unlock her own desires and at times invalidates her existence as a trans woman, a mistake he ultimately pays for when Biba refuses to take it anymore.
‘Joyland’ confronts the expectations of masculinity
Joyland It also presents an intriguing view of the Conventional forces imposed on men. in places like Pakistan. From the first frame of the film, Haider’s submissive personality proves influential in how he is perceived by the world around him, presenting him as a figure who does not subscribe to traditional masculinity and struggles to feel comfortable within it. A lot of pressure is put on Haider to get a job and free Mumtaz from the financial burden of being the breadwinner. However, he is still forced to hide his work as a backup dancer for fear of being seen as illegitimate or disreputable. At one point, Haider says, “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have anything that’s mine,” signaling the dissatisfaction he feels toward his own life, even though he possesses the ingredients for a normal, comfortable family existence that his community tells him he needs. has to. be happy with. So sheltered by his inner circle, Haider seems unaware that a part of him is missing until he meets Biba, signaling the lack of autonomy he has been given up to that point. Ultimately, the strict restrictions of his society create an unequal disparity between Haider and Mumtaz. As Haider discovers who he really is, Mumtaz loses her sense of self, pointing out the freedoms of movement and discovery that men often have over women.
Elegant and unpretentious powerful, Joyland is an emotionally moving work of cinema that is important in the global cinema landscape due to its honest depictions of the struggles of marginalized figures navigating traditional communities. While the film is intrinsically connected to its Pakistani setting, Joyland presents a transcendental questioning of the patriarchal domains that still maintain control over many parts of the world, making the work a work of universality that can address many audiences. After wowing cinephiles at Cannes 2022, where he won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section and took home the prestigious Queer Palm, Joyland took the fall film festival circuit by storm, culminating in its Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film (a first-time honor for Pakistan) and a win in the same category at the Independent Spirit Awards. Initially scheduled for theatrical release in Pakistan last November, Joyland was banned in his country of origin for “moral reasons” and anti-Islamic sentiments. This ban resulted in a major social media movement solidifying behind #releasejoyland, which helped the ban to be revokedalthough the film remains banned in the province of Punjab.