The youngest son in a traditional Pakistani family takes a job as a backup dancer in a Bollywood-style burlesque, and he quickly becomes infatuated with the strong-willed trans woman who runs the show.

Pakistan’s first ever film to be shortlisted for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ award at the Oscars (although sadly not nominated) is ‘Joyland’, a movie about a young Pakistani man who falls in love with a transgender dancer. He is Haider Rana (Ali Junejo), a man who lives in inner city Lahore with the rest of his family comprising of his wife, father, brother and nieces. His father is the patriarch of the family and has put pressure on Haider and his wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) to give him a grandson, going as far as instructing Mumtaz to quit her job when Haider finds one at an erotic dance theatre. That decision proves to be the catalyst for Haider meeting Biba (Alina Khan), one of the star attractions of the theatre, discovering things about himself in the process.

Now this may seem like an unusual subject matter for a movie taking place in a highly religious, conservative society such as Pakistan, and it is, with the Pakistani government initially banning the film before relenting in the face of public pressure. Yet it manages to be a film that is both traditional and groundbreaking, traditional in how it provides us with a view into the day to day lives of an ordinary middle class Pakistani family, and groundbreaking in terms of the romance at its centre. It is a movie about individuals who long for the freedom to live their lives as they want, against a backdrop of strict family and religious values, and the risk that rebelling against those norms creates.

Joyland’ is beautifully shot by director Saim Sadiq, particularly in how he uses light and colour in the romantic scenes between Haider and Biba, contrasting with the pale, spare colour palette used when Haider is back with his family. The vibrancy of Sadiq’s style comes through and it hints at another Pakistan trying to burst out from underneath the conventions its people are accustomed too. It is very well acted across the board and I felt the conflict within Haider was explored with nuance and sensitivity, although if it has a fault, it’s that it mostly lets Haider off the hook for cheating on his wife and I felt it ended quite abruptly.

Joyland’ is an impressive debut movie from Saim Sadiq, with well-drawn characters and a smart script that successfully balances several different elements.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Saim Sadiq

Starring: Ali Junejo, Alina Khan, Rasti Farooq, Sarwat Gilani, Salmaan Peerzada, Sohail Sameer and Sania Saeed

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