Joyland - Spoilers, Explanation & Why is it a masterpiece!
There are so many films that you watch as a critic and yet there is always this one film that often makes your job worthwhile. And Joyland is one such film! The film had so many layers and subtext to it that I couldn’t help but pen a blog for the same. This blog is NOT a review but more of a spoiler discussion wherein I will be deconstructing many scenes of Joyland and explaining the hidden subtext beneath it. So if you haven’t yet watched the film then I would recommend you to stop reading this at the moment, go watch the film and return to this spoiler filled blog! So here we go!
Now I went in with an expectation of watching and interpreting a queer love story in a land that terms it as ‘a sin’ and ‘against the religion’. But little was I prepared for the things to follow. The film starts off on a brilliant note wherein Nucchi(Sarwat Gilani) is expecting the birth of her fourth child hoping it is a boy. In a subtle yet searing scene, she tells her daughters that ‘hopefully’ when she returns, you will have a baby brother. In a spectacular hospital scene, while the baby is delivered fine, Nucchi is seen teary eyed on her hospital bed as she has given birth to a baby girl! There is almost stone dead silence from her husband too.
We are soon introduced to the Rana family that comprises of a wheelchair bound severe patriarch who wants his children to bear a grandson(and not a grand daughter). In a perfect setup that represents the patriarchy that is prevalent in the family, he asks his youngest son Haider(Ali Junejo) to slaughter the goat in one go. In this very scene, we are also introduced to Haider, who is timid and soft spoken and really a sensitive personality. He is not able to slit the throat of the goat and ultimately he is helped out by his wife Mumtaz(Rasti Farooq).
Another example of the prevalent patriarchy stems in a scene, wherein the grandfather asks Mumtaz to stop working after Haider finds himself a job. Mumtaz is independent and rebellious and in complete disagreement but ultimately has to give in to the demands. Meanwhile, Haider meets Biba, an attractive transwoman, and slowly starts developing feelings for here, thereby ignoring Mumtaz and her feelings(s*xual and emotional).
The drama is extremely layered as it gives a modern day account of patriarchy that is prevalent even in a modern city like Lahore. To give you two separate instances, the character of Biba(who plays a dancer), is forced to hug a man despite her visible unwillingness to. In a heart wrenching scene, she accounts for a horrific incident when her friend was shot at by a group of men after she refused to give in to their demands. In a separate scene, Mumtaz is seen m*sturbating while watching another man from her window who is in turn having phone s*x with someone. Oblivious to her, Saleem, her brother-in-law, is standing behind her, watching her performing the act, only to later complain to his brother to keep his wife in his grasp. These scenes symbolize the presence of men representing patriarchy which are always prevalent in one form or the other.
The only scene where Mumtaz and Nucchi are free from a patriarchal presence is when they are in Joyland, an amusement park of sorts. They are seeing laughing without any qualms when on the seesaw bridge. It is a scene prior to that where we witness the s*xual urge of Mumtaz as a by passer accidently shoulders her while walking. You get a sense that Mumtaz is not satisfied with Haider and is silently slipping in depression.
Haider on the other hand does take a liking for Biba but there is also a prevalent patriarch in him. He silent and sensitive, yet in timid words does not want Biba to go another the knife, this when Biba wishes to have her gender changing operation. But Haider like his father and brother are not vilified here, but are quietly shown as victims of patriarchy. In fact, the masculinity of Haider is always a burning question. In a beautifully sensitive scene, Haider turns in an intimate moment with Biba wishing to be penetrated, only leading to a strained relationship from there on.
The brush of patriarchy does not spare even the grandfather who is many ways is shown to be a loner. In a brilliant scene, his companion Fayyaz is forced to stay the night after her son doesn’t turn up to pick her up(and Rana’s children and daughters-in-law are all away). In the very next scene, Fayyaz’s son begins the blame game on how ‘his’ mother was out all night and ‘spending the night’ with another man. This gives patriarchy a new dimension, although briefly.
The beauty of Joyland lies in the fact that it doesn’t lure you in to the love story of Biba and Haider. You may want to dig a little deeper into their complex relationship but it is actually Mumtaz who is an equal stakeholder here. In fact over the course of two relationships, between Biba and Haider, and Haider and Mumtaz, the patriarchy is represented. It showcases that it is even more hard to be a woman who is a mere spectator in the house and only “expected” to bear “sons” while the male counterpart does all the “heavy lifting”.
This is as much of a case study of Mumtaz as it is of Biba. Mumtaz is uncannily on the sidelines throughout the film but even as a viewer you fail to judge her depression. It was like a bright flower is slowly being crushed without getting noticed. And here is the genius of Saim Sadiq as the director. In a shocking twist of fate, a pregnant Mumtaz commits suicide all of a sudden. There was a sudden outburst from Nucchi, another character who may have once been a version of Mumtaz and had finally come to accept her reality, only to blame everyone in the Rana’s family for the death of Mumtaz. I was not prepared for it and these scenes did seem out of the blue.
Yet the very next scene is used as a flashback when a timid Haider is shown to meet Mumtaz for the first time, only to promise her that she will be allowed to work and do what she wants. A blushing Mumtaz is shown to be flattered and excited for her marriage. This scene was shattering in many ways and this is when the film reached the pinnacle of a Masterpiece! The final scene is perhaps a woefully beautiful ending about a now broken Haider embracing the sea and its vastness while almost reflecting on his choices.
Joyland is emotional and earth-shattering and perhaps one of the best films that I have witnessed this year. It is layered and almost reflective of the patriarchy prevalent in you and me. I see this film in the top 5 for sure with a realistic chance of even lifting the prestiged award at the Academy Awards this year. But moreover, Saim Sadiq has created this masterpiece that may have propelled the Pakistan Film Industry by 10 years!