Joyland: A film about love, lust and everything in between

Isha Kurian
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Joyland: A film about love, lust and everything in between

The tale of a sexual revolution, Joyland, directed by Saim Sadiq, is about the youngest son of a patriarchal household who is expected to meet the family expectations and how he fails to do so.

The commencement scene of Joyland depicts a woman on the delivery table, shaken and confused by the news of the birth of her baby girl as she had been told she would bear a baby boy prior. The disappointment resonates with the Rana family, who were eagerly anticipating the birth of a baby boy, one who they could proudly call the “heir” to their clan. Joyland revolves around the Rana’s, a traditional middle class family belonging to Pakistan. Haider, played by Ali Junejo, is the youngest of the Rana family and struggles to find a job. His wife, Mumtaz, played by Rasti Farooq, manages to sustain them through her job as a makeup artist. After a few dreaded months, Haider manages to find a job at the local Bollywood style Burlesque as a background erotic dancer, despite the fact that he has no prior experience and is completely devoid of any dancing ability.  Having no other options left, he joins the theatre but lies to his family saying he is the theatre manager. It's at this theatre that he meets Biba.

Biba, played by Alina Khan is a strong willed trans woman who is determined to make her mark as a dancer. Being a trans woman, she doesn’t find the opportunity to be the main dancer at the theatre and is asked to perform only during the intervals. She doesn’t let this deter her in any way and puts in the same amount of hard work and commitment as she would have had she been the main act. Haider finds himself getting infatuated with Biba and gets into an intimate relationship with her, although he's married to Mumtaz. Their tangled affair leads to a series of complications that we encounter as we progress through the movie. Biba emerges as the star of the movie, as it should be when making a queer film. This isn't her sob story and neither does she want any pity, neither from Haider nor the world. She is content with herself and her sheer resilience is what makes her her own knight in shining armour.

Also read: Sunil Babu Pant’s Blue Flower shows the survival of a suppressed queer man in an orthodox village wanting to be set free of his obligations

Haider’s wife, Mumtaz, finds herself being sexually deprived as she receives lack of interest from her husband, who hesitates to be intimate with her after getting into an affair with Biba. Although Haider loves Mumtaz, he's unable to display his affection to her. She finds herself trapped in a jail, one she is forced to call her home. She's met with nothing but ignorance from her in-laws and finds her only comfort in her sister-in-law, Nucchi. After Haider secured the job at the theatre, the family expected Mumtaz to quit her job and stay at home to help Nucchi take care of her kids as well as the household. Although Haider doesn't find this fair, his meek and spineless personality prevents him from retorting to his father and elder brother’s commands. Mumtaz’s character is one of the aspects of Joyland that had me gripped throughout. She is a strong willed woman who is passionate about her career and wants to get ahead in her life. However, she finds herself tied down due to her lacklustre marriage into Haider’s family, who often show little to no regard for her aspirations and simply expect her to abide by her womanly duties and be a lowly housewife. A lot of similarities can be found in Biba and Mumtaz. Their undeterred spirit, even due to the circumstances they find themselves in as well as their passion and zeal for their careers is what might have drawn Haider to the two women, given that he lacks both. 

Calling them villains of the plot may be a bit harsh, but there isn’t a better word for the roles played by Salman Peerzada, the patriarch of the Rana family as well as Sameer Sohail, who plays Saleem, the eldest son of the family. Mumtaz finds herself often pressured by Saleem to imitate Nucchi's habits, who looks after the household and is a doting mother to her 4 kids. Throughout the course of the film, Saleem is often seen criticising both Haider and Mumtaz in a subtle manner and blames their father for Haider’s humdrum attitude towards life. Nucchi serves as the comic relief of the movie as she entertains the audience with her charm and lovable personality. Mumtaz often finds herself running to her for comfort as the two women find their own little ways to find moments of beauty in the mundanity that is living in the Rana house. It is Nucchi by Mumtaz’s side at the gynaecologist when they receive the joyful news that Mumtaz is pregnant with a baby boy, news that is equivalent to winning the lottery for the Rana family.  

An unexpected but charming plot twist of the movie that audience may or may not see coming is the innocent romance between the patriarch of the Rana family and their elderly next door neighbour, who comes by the house to help in household chores as well as engage in her conversations with their father, their own little interpretation of romance. She finds herself spending a night at the Rana’s, to her son’s shock. However, Haider’s dad comes to her defence saying that the only reason she made the decision is due to her son’s inability to make time for her. A romance fizzling amongst two people who are perhaps in their final chapters of life isn’t something that I expected from this film which made it very adorable to watch.  

My favourite aspect of the film however is the cinematography. I’ve never left a movie so enchanted. The colours, the frames, you can really see the thought behind every still of the film. The cinematography and the script tie so well together, only to fuse and become a brilliant piece of cinema. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that the movie had Malala Yousafzai as an executive producer. Joyland needs to watched for perfectly encapsulating the complexities of love and lust while also making the audience laugh and finding joy in the little things.

Joyland was streaming at Kashish Film Festival 2023.

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