This drama was the first Pakistani film ever screened at the Cannes festival, and this realistic and melancholic drama, which offers an interesting insight into modern Pakistani society, was also shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Saim Sadiq’s “Joyland” did not receive a nomination, but that’s why the feature film debut of the American-educated director won an award in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. And “Joyland” brings a really completely different view of modern Pakistan, that country located between India, Iran and Afghanistan that was created in the early fifties after the civil war with India.
As is known, Pakistan is an Islamic country, apparently still quite traditional and conservative, and so is the family of the main protagonist, unemployed Haider from the city of Lahore. And while his wife Mumtaz is employed and works as a hairdresser, Haider is not working, but he is at home helping Nucchi, the wife of his older brother Saleem. He washes the dishes, cleans, takes care of the old father and patriarch of the family, who is always the last, and the old man is not too happy about the fact that Haider does nothing, while his wife is the one who is employed and contributes. And Haider is aware that any job is necessary for him, but the job he will find is definitely not one of those jobs that his father, who constantly nags him, thought about.
One of Haider’s friends is a backing dancer in a Bollywood-style burlesque theater troupe, and the main dancer in his section is Biba, a transsexual person, that is, a woman who used to be a man. And it is obvious that Biba is neither male nor female, and this exotic person will immediately fascinate Haider, who will begin to question his own sexuality and identity. This silent and withdrawn man will soon embark on an adventure with Biba, and his choice will lead to a disaster in the family, and he will very soon regret his choice. And “Joyland” offers an interesting insight into modern Pakistan, which is clearly still a deeply conservative and traditional country, just like Haider and his family, but apparently such a country is not devoid of phenomena such as the transsexual subculture that we usually associate with some Western countries.
It is brought by Sadiq in this stylized, realistic and well-thought-out and provocative film, the conflict of these two extremes, which seem to be reflected in the main protagonist. The instilled patriarchal values and rules that all honest people there must abide by will clash with the new and exotic that Haider will discover and attract, and his “awakening” will threaten to destroy his family’s reputation as well as put additional pressure on his wife. Although “Joyland” had an extremely successful festival life and was screened at numerous festivals around the world, it caused huge controversy in Pakistan.
After pressure from conservative parties there, the film was banned from theaters there and “Joyland” faced huge attacks that it was an anti-Pakistan film that insulted local values. Then, this decision to censor and ban a film that definitely has its artistic value, as evidenced by numerous awards from world festivals, caused a barrage of criticism and anger from more liberal currents. In the end, the film was still allowed to be shown in Pakistani cinemas and arrived there three months later than originally planned, with the exception of the Punjab province where it is still banned.