Joyland is a gem from across the border, says Anupama Chopra - Hindustan Times
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Joyland is a gem from across the border, says Anupama Chopra

Jun 04, 2022 06:36 PM IST

Pakistan’s first film to make the official selection at Cannes is a tragic tale of desire, freedom and repression. It deserves a bigger audience than just festival-goers.

One of the most thrilling wins at the Cannes Film Festival was that of Joyland, Pakistan’s first film to make the official selection at the festival. Joyland showed as part of the Un Certain Regard section and was awarded the jury prize. Incredibly, the film is also writer-director Saim Sadiq’s feature film debut. The film also won the Queer Palm (the prize, given for best LBGTQ-themed movie, is not part of the official awards but has been given to renowned filmmakers such as Todd Haynes and Xavier Dolan).

Filmmaker Saim Sadiq describes the film about a conservative Lahore family as a call for empathy. It observes the acute loneliness of both men and women and the toxic patriarchy that subjugates everyone. PREMIUM
Filmmaker Saim Sadiq describes the film about a conservative Lahore family as a call for empathy. It observes the acute loneliness of both men and women and the toxic patriarchy that subjugates everyone.

Joyland is the story of a conservative, middle-class family in Lahore. Two brothers, their wives and a few children live under the iron hand of an oppressive and demanding wheelchair-bound father. Their lives take a complicated turn when the younger brother, Haider gets a job as a background dancer at an erotic theatre and becomes besotted by Biba, a trans dancer fighting to establish herself as a draw there.

Joyland is a tragic exploration of desire, freedom and repression. Saim is keenly observant of the acute loneliness of both men and women. The toxic patriarchy of this society stunts and subjugates everyone – including the father, who seemingly has all the power. Saim’s compassionate gaze humanises every character in the frame. Which is perhaps why in an interview in Cannes, Saim described the film to me as ‘a call for empathy.’ “It’s a call for normalising certain ideas like desire. It’s as basic as eating food,” he said.

Interestingly, Joyland’s win is also, in a small way, a win for India. One of the producers, Apoorva Guru Charan, is Indian. Apoorva and Saim met as students at Columbia University. In an email, Apoorva says, “it was a partnership that quite literally started in a classroom hallway that brought us to Cannes”.

When I asked Saim if he anticipates problems with censorship in Pakistan, he said that he was hopeful that some version of the film would release. ”Joyland’s win at Cannes is bigger than me and the film. It’s a win for Pakistani and South Asian cinema to have such a rooted and inherently desi film make this kind of noise at the croisette”.

I hope the same is true for India. As Apoorva says, “I feel Joyland will resonate deeply with a South Asian audience. I’m really hopeful that the audiences back home in India will get to experience it. Whether that is through film festivals or a release, we are open to whichever door is extended.”

This is an important film and I hope it travels far.

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