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JOYLAND makes a stunning debut

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Saim Sadiq, writer, and director of the critically acclaimed movieJoyland. A 2022 Pakistani drama film in Urdu and Punjabi, Joyland is Sadiq’s directorial debut. The film stars Ali Junejo (Haider), Rasti Farooq (Mumtaz), Alina Khan (Biba), Sarwat Gilani (Nucchi), and Salmaan Peerzada (Grandpa). According to Sadiq this is not a true story but it is based on a fictional amalgamation of stories.
Watch the interview below.

YouTube video
Saim Sadiq discusses JOYLAND with Monita Soni for India Currents

The Plot

Joyland tells the story of prevalent middle-class values in inner-city Lahore, centered on a Punjabi-Muslim family, which includes a patriarch, his two sons and their wives, and four granddaughters. He forces his daughter-in-law, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), to quit her job after Haider (Ali Junejo), her husband, finds work as manager of a burlesque theater. But when Haider finds a deep yearning for Biba, a transgender dancer (Alina Khan), it threatens the family dynamics.

The picture shows a man and a woman smiling
Haider and Biba in Joyland (image courtesy/ IMDB)


Joyland is the first Pakistani film to premiere at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard). It received a standing ovation after its screening at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival on 23 May 2022. It also won the Jury Prize and Queer Palm prize for best LGBTQ, queer or feminist theme movie at the festival. Though Pakistan initially banned the film, it’s now screening in theaters in India and Pakistan. Joyland won the Best International Film at Film Independent Spirit Awards 2023The film will be released in Los Angeles on April 21st.


The film is realistic, sensitive, and heart-wrenching. Sadiq takes us out of our comfort zone into inner city Lahore and depicts the lives of people learning to cope with their existential reality. Haider’s family exists in a pseudo-harmonious way. His older brother Saleem and his wife Nucchi are busy making babies. He shares a comfortable friendship with his wife Mumtaz who enjoys her job as an aesthetician at a beauty parlor. Mumtaz is thrilled to share her triumph with Haider when she manages to finish the makeup on a bride in the blackout of a power outage, by asking her assistants to turn on their phone flashlights! She is warmly encouraging of Haider who shows her his dance steps and twirls on the rooftop. 

The picture shows two women laiughing
The sisters-in-law share a laugh in Joyland (Image courtesy/ IMDB)

But the director gives the audience an intimate peek into the Rana household to reveal their secrets. We can see the many factors that could upset what appears to be, outwardly, a harmonious domestic setup. Mumtaz feels invisible. Nucchi births a fourth girl instead of a son who could propagate the family name. The dad ruling the roost from his wheelchair is incontinent. A widow in the neighborhood tries to find purpose. Into this mix, the writer throws an unlikely wrench in the shape of a transgender dancer called Biba (Alina Khan). 

The transgender catalyst

This image shows actor Ali Junejo  riding a scooter and holding a large cutout of a woman, in Saim Sadiq’s JOYLAND.
Ali Junejo in Saim Sadiq’s JOYLAND. (Image courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Haider’s character gets the maximum footage because this scrawny, sheltered young man is everybody’s man Friday. He cooks the best moong-masoor dal, babysits and entertains his nieces, acts as a nursemaid and masseuse to his father, and chauffeurs his sister-in-law to and from the hospital. Haider is subservient and soft-spoken but he is unemployed and apparently, unemployable.

Haider is looking for a job, and a friend introduces him to a dancer Biba. Biba is a transgender woman who aggressively pursues her dreams. She likes the shy Haider and recruits him as her background dancer. There is a lot of conflict around Biba, from storing her huge cardboard cutout, to finding practice locales, to stiff competition and dirty politics by another performer. 

he picture shows a man and a woman looking at each other
Haider and Biba share a confidence in Joyland (Image courtesy/ IMDB)

Haider and Biba grow closer through scooter rides, dance practice, drinks, and intimacy. A scene where they both examine a small sea shell is particularly poignant. Sadiq masterfully sets the scene – the framing, direction, and cinematography are so realistic. The metaphor of a seashell is powerful, plunging us into depths of layered human emotions and inner angst to be free. What transpires later is obvious but the repercussions of this bond devastate the Rana family. 

A must-watch, hard-hitting film 

Joyland reminded me of another Bollywood film, Chandigarh Kare Ashiqui , where Vani Kapoor plays a transgender character. I think that movie would have been edgier with a real transgender actor, like Alina Khan. Joyland is a must-watch film. The name Joyland and the poster of the two main characters on a scooter with the cardboard cutout to me was very evocative. The movie plays like a brooding story written by Chekov, Saadat Hasan Manto or Munshi Premchand.

Heavy, heart-wrenching, but important.

The picture shows a movie poster
A poster for Joyland. (Image courtesy: Joyland/O-scope)

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two...