My exposure to indie films comes primarily through the Oscars, film festivals and the social media accounts that strive to introduce something different to the mainstream world.
“Joyland,” directed by Saim Sadiq, came to my attention through all three avenues, despite not securing an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature. After a year of eager anticipation, I finally had the opportunity to watch this film, and there are several aspects I would like to discuss.
Firstly, the film is awkward, scared, and in search of its own happiness—much like its characters. There’s an underlying sense of insecurity throughout the film, yet it remains elusive as to what exactly causes this insecurity. The film’s grounding in the struggle of its main characters to find happiness in a society dictated by norms is what I find particularly intriguing. It’s a theme that will draw me back to this film in the future.
Ali Junejo, who portrays Haider, delivers a flawless performance as a man striving to find his place in a world where he feels voiceless. His true happiness is a secret that would be shattered if the world were to discover it because, in today’s world, it’s not ready to accept that love can exist beyond conventional boundaries. Junejo gracefully portrays Haider as a respectful husband who, in the context of the film’s nature, is neither entirely guilty nor innocent. His fear of disappointing his father leads him to ask Mumtaz to stop working, so she can care for Nucchi’s kids at home. This subplot is brilliantly executed, highlighting the unsettling and unstable relentlessness among all the characters, especially Mumtaz.
Rasti Farooq’s role as Mumtaz is highly relatable. Her character perfectly encapsulates someone who feels trapped, like a caged bird yearning for escape but lacking other options. Throughout the film, we witness everything that brings her joy being stripped away. She agreed to marry on the condition that Haider wouldn’t object to her working, a reality in many households, not only in Pakistan but also in India. While society is progressing, there is still a long way to go. She simply wants to get an air conditioner and go to a beach with Haider but not being able to do it feels heartbreaking. Small dreams and compromises – the life of every middle-classed person.
Alina Khan shines as Biba, a character who aspires to be part of society but remains an innocent soul yearning for acceptance, freedom from abuse, and judgment. She longs for a normal life where people don’t scrutinize her. Biba presents a resilient face on stage, but behind the scenes, she harbors a desire to break down. She understands her limited options but takes a deep breath and asserts control over her own life.
These three characters represent three different personas. Haider accepts society’s constraints, allowing it to silence and erode him. Mumtaz desires to follow her dreams, but societal norms hinder her. Biba, on the other hand, knows society won’t accept her, so she fights back rather than succumbs to despair. Interestingly, Haider feels a sense of liberation with Biba because she defies societal norms, embodying the freedom he wishes he had. Mumtaz, on the other hand, feels silenced because of Haider’s nature.
The intimacy Haider shares with both characters feels authentic and genuine. The film’s closing arc, where Biba confronts Haider and he submits, causing her to feel insulted and eject him from her home, was brilliantly executed. Similarly, the subsequent scene where Haider breaks down in front of Mumtaz exudes authenticity. There’s an undeniable realness to this film that creates a serene space despite its discomfort.
Saim Sadiq’s artistic direction effectively captures the essence of Pakistan’s neighborhoods and the film’s overarching themes. The film fearlessly presents bold, awkward, and unsettling elements, which is what cinema should truly be about—capturing truth. It’s simply amazing! I really love the ending where Haider goes to the beach. There are so many things left unsaid that fly away in the sands of time and drift away like the endless ocean. It’s perfect considering how they chose to show the scene from the past where Haider comes to meet Mumtaz to ask her if she wants to get married, since in society, elders often feel the urge to express that they know better. The film isn’t peaceful, and yet somehow, the beach scene feels as such. Something I’d say I can relate to in real life as well: peace amidst all the chaos.
The only somewhat negative aspect I’d mention is the cinematography. While it masterfully conveys the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere, the framing feels off. Instead of being a 1:33:1 film, it seems as though it was shot in a different aspect ratio and cropped to reach 1.33:1. This was the only aspect that bothered me throughout, but aside from that, the framing and overall visual execution were brilliant.
In conclusion, ‘Joyland’ expertly captures societal and political themes, brought to life through stellar performances by the main and supporting cast. It poignantly portrays the difficulties of existing in a world heavily influenced by societal norms, with the struggle varying for each individual, even though every day feels equally oppressive.
As a final verdict, I would rate this film 4.5/5.