THE STORY – As the happily patriarchal Rana family craves for the birth of a baby boy, the youngest of the Rana men secretly joins an erotic dance theatre and finds himself falling for a fiercely ambitious trans starlet. Their impossible love story slowly illuminates the entire Rana family’s desire for a sexual rebellion.
THE CAST – Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Salmaan Peerzada, Sohail Sameer, Sania Saeed & Ali Junejo
THE TEAM – Saim Sadiq (Director/Writer) & Maggie Briggs (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 120 Minutes
There is an endless bounty of intriguing stories from underrepresented perspectives that world cinema can offer. Oftentimes these efforts can feel like unique discoveries, but they ultimately are essential reminders that communities of all backgrounds live rich and complicated lives in all corners of this earth. Even when one believes specific environments are suppressing particular aspects of society, that does not halt their existence nor their contributions to a lavish landscape. These are reasons why “Joyland” occupies a vital space in this setting, to witness the inner workings of a group of people in a region that many may find excluded from the larger global framework. As such, it is a captivating examination of yearning and self-fulfillment.
Set in a Pakistani town, the Rana family is a close-knit group in which Haider (Ali Junejo) feels the patriarchal pressures. His wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) is the breadwinner between him, keeping him home to tend to his disabled father and brother’s children. As the calls for him to find employment and start a family increase, he finally finds a job through a friend working at a local theater that puts on erotic dancing. Haider is hired as a dancer, a secret he keeps close to himself, under the guidance of the choreographer Biba (Alina Khan). As a trans woman, Biba is the subject of ire from many, but Haider has an instant fascination with her. The two form a connection, one which will test not only his inward aspirations but those around him.
Saim Sadiq crafts a powerfully intimate character study that is thoroughly engaging. The filmmaking creates a compelling sense of space, utilizing its striking framing to emphasize the arena these characters exist in and inform their emotional state. The cinematography has an aspect that feels grandiose in its passion yet personal in the thematic exploration, which emphasizes the alluring nature of this backdrop. Sadiq masterfully portrays the complex lives of these participants in a method that is endearing and gripping. His eye assembles a textured and detailed layering that hones in on specific moments of profound sensitivity, speaking to the nuances at play. His directorial efforts are engrossing in the way he manifests a tale that showcases an inviting spectacle of drama.
Sadiq’s screenplay also tenderly conveys the conflicting desires at play and how such complexity can reveal more profound truths to the soul. It analyzes the relationships forged when revelations about identity are unearthed, leading to an intense catharsis. There are occasions when the storytelling indulges in familiar archetypes, but it is a foundation for which to build this intriguing character study. The greater deficiencies come from a narrative that tends to meander and concludes with some unfulfilled resolutions by the finale. Still, the story is a beautiful rendering of the full spectrum encompassing human longing, framed through a queer lens that offers a sophisticated portrait.
Junejo’s central performance is a fantastic anchor for the film. There’s a timid meekness that authentically illustrates a confused and aimless soul that craves for a life different from what currently exists. He captures a radiating persona that is layered and enthralling to watch unfold and evolve. It’s a commanding turn that is quite impressive. Similar sentiments can be shown for Khan, beguiling in her ability to present strength and vulnerability. Even when the script slides into the tropes of trans trauma, her portrayal is always arresting. Farooq also has wonderful moments that add to the tapestry of this fantastic ensemble. No matter the size, every role perfectly gives weight to these provocative characters and establishes a lived-in location to probe.
Despite the ugliness in society that is brought out, there is still an elation to “Joyland” that makes it worthy of luxuriating within. The narrative is one that looks at the difficult set of circumstances many are forced to tolerate in their lives and how breaking from those established norms starts a beautiful journey of discovery. Not every element of this objective is successfully executed, but the commentary is full of introspective observations that are thoughtfully curated. With fine performances inhabiting these complicated characterizations, the results are a mesmerizing display. This is a satisfying example of a slice of life that one is grateful to be given a window to peer into, and it’s an indispensable showcase to be provided.