Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Stifled identity in a Pakistani drama

Set in Pakistan, Joyland introduces us to characters struggling to be themselves. Tradition,  social pressures, and personal failings block the way to self realization. Saim Sadiq directs in a no-frills style that focuses on Haider (Ali Junejo), an unemployed Lahore man who's married to a working wife (Rasti Farooq). Haider and his wife live in a cramped apartment with his patriarchal father (Salman Peerzada). Haider's brother (Sohail Samir), wife (Sarwat Gilani) and their kids also share the apartment. The pressure to have kids and uphold the family name doesn't need to be spoken, a problem for Haider who avoids sexual contact with Mumtaz, his wife. The drama advances when a friend helps Haider land a job working with an erotic dance company. Although he’s shy and not particularly talented, Haider learns to dance with Biba (Alina Khan), a trans woman who’s working to pay for the surgery that will complete her transition. A stern task master, Biba sees something in Haider and the two begin to fall in love. Sadiq builds to a shocking scene in which Biba and Haider learn something about each other -- and about themselves. Named for an amusement park where Haider’s family spends an evening, Joyland is anything but cheery. Sadiq touches many bases here — tradition, patriarchy, sexual orientation, lack of economic opportunity and arranged marriage. Instead of being swamped, he effectively tells a story in which the uneasy conflation of all these elements breeds a tragic outcome. Joyland leaves us in a mood of sad reflection.

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