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Joyland: Adversity within South Asian Cinema

Updated: Apr 11

South Asian society as we know it, tends to be conservative. Conservative in mindset; sticking to the status quo; knowing your place. It’s crazy how one movie challenging this mindset shifted Pakistan and the rest of South Asia entirely.

Joyland is a film which features the Rana family, an extended middle-lower class family living in Lahore. The film is an interesting take on Pakistani family interactions with overlapping themes of patriarchy, societal expectations and struggle, indifferent to each character. While there are evident flaws in each personality on screen, they are humanised and a victim of the society they live in. the element of realism is captured in a groundbreaking format, everything you see and hear feels like something familiar that you know of or have heard about back home. Added into the mix is the reality of transgenders in Pakistan; from their rejection in public to a sexual desire in private. Watching Biba’s character was an absolute pleasure, she was intelligent, playful and witty yet self-aware. Being invited into a world which is usually shunned within South Asian society was really eye opening.

I found this film so gripping as a British-Asian woman who has spent alot of my childhood and adolescent life in Pakistan. What made this film so refreshing was the fact that it spoke about things which you “shouldn’t” or “don’t” talk about. Like evident patriarchal chains on women, mental health issues, or being expected to keep in line with religion and sexuality. It completely diverted from what “should be” into what it “already is”.

While there is focus on the dark elements of Pakistani culture, there are lighter elements which demonstrate the beauty of our culture. For example, when the neighbour comes over for a chat, there is a tray filled with chai, variations of chai biscuit, etc, customary greetings from the whole family and discussing community matters. Similarly there are scenes of weddings filled with colour, dhols creating atmosphere and folk songs to be heard across the neighbourhood. I felt that Joyland appreciated the culture and took a balanced narrative rather than demonised it for the negative aspects.

Joyland is a Pakistani film directed by Saim Sadiq which was banned from domestic release in it’s motherland in November of 2022. With much controversy around it’s release, claiming the film as anti-Islamic and “against Pakistani values” for simply showcasing the reality for transgender communities. Additionally, it did not premiere at the Kerala Film Festival which is notably one of India’s biggest events celebrating South Asian Cinema.

Despite this, Joyland, the first Pakistani film in history entered Cannes Film Festival receiving a standing ovation and positive reviews upon its screening. While also winning the Jury award. From a country which has had a terrible reputation placed by the west with fundamentalism, terrorism and violence; it is a huge achievement for likeminded Pakistanis.

I had the absolute privilege of attending the Joyland preview screening and Q&A with Saim Sadiq at the BFI Southbank in London on February 8th 2023. Hearing his perspective on Pakistani society and the infiltration of female influence within this film was astonishing. He comments “there is a complicity in patriarchy, obvious or not, the father upholding patriarchy in a big way has the power as per [the patriarchy] but it doesn’t seem to be making him happier. Which is interesting because you have all the power, right?”

I highly encourage everyone, Pakistani, South Asian, Non-South Asian to watch this film. It is so telling of our culture and the way we are as a community, but more importantly, breaking barriers within this community.

Article by Saffah Anjum

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