Image from Joyland (2022)
In November 2022, the film Joyland was banned in Pakistan, the country it was produced in. The country is also home to the film’s director, Saim Sadiq, who has been crafting this film since college. A story about a married man named Haider (played by Ali Junejo), who takes up the job as a backup dancer in a nightclub. Who he happens to be backing up is a transgender performer by the name of Biba, played by Alina Khan. The two begin an affair with one another that sends ripples through those that surround them. A dramatic piece of storytelling that breaks down barriers of language, culture, and gender identity ensues.

Shot in Lahore, a city in Pakistan that holds a theme park called Joyland, hence the title. The theme park is where sparks fly between Biba and Haider. The city has walls that obstruct the bright lights of Joyland to light up the rest of Lahore — a metaphor for the two of them keeping their relationship under wraps. Suppression is a common theme in the film, particularly regarding the character's wants and needs. Haider's family all lives under one roof. His wife works without complaints and brings home good pay to keep everyone happy. They live with their brother, his wife, and their kids. But at the head of the family is his father, played by Salmaan Peerzada, and is a man who wants his sons to be the breadwinners of the family. What this ends up doing is tearing the family apart. At home with Haider, you feel these characters bogged down by the household rules and not having much choice or say in anything.

Saim Saiq’s direction in the film makes you feel like nobody else could’ve crafted this story because there's a gentleness shown to the two central characters — both seem like outsiders to an aggressive world. The contrast between the two main locations of the movies is easy to spot. The nightclub where Haider dances lacks things such as air conditioning and stage decoration but thrives on attractive colors and unforgettable dance numbers that make you never want to leave Joyland. Yet, when you do, you are back home with Haider and the mundane details of his life. The scenes at the house feel lacking in color and mundane — to give you that contrast. If it weren’t for the film's producer, Nobel laureate, and activist Malala Yousafzai, pushing back against the ban on the film in Pakistan, who knows what would have happened to it? However, the film never tries to cross any lines nor tries to stick it to those who would want to oppose it.

Joyland is a sensitive film made by what feels like a sensitive director who isn’t just trying to tell a story about an affair that may be unconventional to some viewers. The film seems to be more about suppressing beliefs and even urges that restrict us from knowing who we truly are.