Ali Junejo as Haider Rana and Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz in 'Joyland' | Photo: 'Joyland' Production | Source: IMDB
Ali Junejo as Haider Rana and Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz in 'Joyland' | Photo: 'Joyland' Production | Source: IMDB

TIFF 2022: It breaks my heart, but ‘Joyland’ was sadly a missed opportunity

2022 Toronto International Film Festival

Saim Sadiq
Saim Sadiq, Maggie Briggs
Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Salmaan Peerzada, Sohail Sameer, Sania Saeed

Ever since I first heard about Joyland, its been on my watch list. I was excited when the film was announced for TIFF, and I jumped at the opportunity to see the film.

Joyland captures the life of a Pakistani joint family, with the focus around Haider Rana (Ali Junejo), a quiet man living with his wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) in the shadow of his family members. An opportunity to be a backup dancer for a trans performer Biba (Alina Khan) opens up a new world for Haider, one that will challenge societal norms and expectations for himself and his whole family.

With the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and Queer Palm given by the Cannes Film Festival, this film was a no brainer.

It being a Pakistani film made this even more important to watch, to see and understand just how Pakistani cinema is evolving for a new generation of film enthusiasts.

Sadly, it breaks my heart to say the film just didn’t work for me.

Ali Junejo as Haider Rana and Alina Khan as Biba in ‘Joyland’ | Photo: ‘Joyland’ Production | Courtesy of TIFF

The story was too fragmented

The film had very good intentions. Putting a spotlight on patriarchal culture and old school norms is a vital discussion point as societies – especially South Asian communities – evolve. The film aimed to talk about family values, the roles of children within households, the toxic nature of certain relationships, the place of trans people within societies cultural values, and importantly, individuals trying to gain identity in communities driven by “what people will say”.

This film had the right ingredients and the perfect recipe, but sadly the story’s execution didn’t drive any one point through where the viewer could see profound evolution of characters.

For me, it felt like a timestamped period of a person’s life, from start to finish, and all they had to endure during that period caused by society around them. I would say it was borderline sad, especially as someone who can relate to Pakistani life and culture. And maybe that was a factor in my experience. There is too much drama that already exists about broken families and societal norms, and while this film did try to highlight things that Pakistani films and shows don’t highlight, I felt it was yet another production that just showed societies undue pressure on women and those who are “different”, without driving a change that would shatter those norms. There was so much potential for this film to create a radical benchmark, and it missed it.

The introduction of Biba as a catalyst in Haider’s life didn’t do anything other than drive lust, and that was a shame. Alina Khan has a powerful presence in this film, and one of the strongest performances. Seeing how her character – and the fact that she is a trans individual – creates change in a typical Pakistani family and society in general was something I really hoped we’d see. It was nice to see forward thinking mentality showcased by some characters, but there wasn’t ever any tangible story growth. I felt Haider’s character was like a ping pong ball moving from scene to scene without any considered change, and that threw me off at times.

It highlighted so many things wrong in society, as listed above, but at no point did it show characters evolve to change their circumstances. I yearned to see the characters engage with one another, break out of their mold. It just didn’t happen, not even when things unraveled.

I feel we’ve already highlighted stereotypical toxic family models in films past, and this would have been a great opportunity to take not-often-discussed-topics and weave a powerful narrative around them rather than just stating what is.

Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz and Sarwat Gilani as Nucchi in 'Joyland' | Photo: 'Joyland' Production | Source: IMDB
Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz and Sarwat Gilani as Nucchi in ‘Joyland’ | Photo: ‘Joyland’ Production | Source: IMDB

This is not a reflection on talents, including Sadiq

It’s important for me to point out that while I was disappointed in the film and my experience from it, this is by no means a diss on the talent.

I feel most of the cast have a bright future ahead of themselves, especially Alina Khan and Rasti Farooq who gave solid performances as Biba and Mumtaz respectively. Ali Junejo captured the cluelessness of Haider Rana to a T, to the point where I was constantly rooting for the character. Also, the film had a solid talent foundation with talents such as Sarwat Gilani, who helped anchor other characters with their own.

What I felt disappointed by was that the story let the talent down. I haven’t watched Saim’s shortfilm Darling from 2019, which is what this film is adapted from. I feel the film had the right talents but fell short on a more refined story and solid execution that would have helped bring the characters (and thus the cast) together.

I think as a filmmaker Sadiq has a knack for capturing stories on camera. I know this is not the last time we will see films from him, and I am looking forward to his future work.

Ali Junejo as Haider Rana in 'Joyland' | Photo: 'Joyland' Production | Source: IMDB
Ali Junejo as Haider Rana in ‘Joyland’ | Photo: ‘Joyland’ Production | Courtesy of TIFF

Should you give Joyland a watch?

I personally think you should. Film is an interpretive art. We all will experience this film differently and will understand the struggle and the characters differently.

It was great to see a film-contender from Pakistan being showcased at international film festivals. As a country that doesn’t have very many film outputs celebrated on a global stage, this film has broken barriers and engaged crowds. I think that alone gives it a reason to be watched.

I had a certain expectation for the film which was sadly not met. It does not mean you will have the same experience. However, you will likely catch upon some of the points I’ve made above when you watch the film, and its important to be cognizant of it going in.

Joyland is celebrating its North American premiere at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations category. More details about the film can be seen on TIFF’s website HERE, including showtimes and film details.

Cover Image: Ali Junejo as Haider Rana and Rasti Farooq as Mumtaz in Joyland | Photo: Joyland Production | Source: IMDB