How ‘Joyland’ Got Made and Found Love

The Pakistani movie questioning gender norms and family expectations took six years to make. Now, it’s taking the festival circuit by storm.

Sadaf Ahsan

September 27, 2022

How ‘Joyland’ Got Made and Found Love
'Joyland' (courtesy of TIFF)

About halfway through Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, a woman on a Lahore train berates the film’s lead, Biba (Alina Khan), who is trans. The woman demands Biba leave the compartment. Their fight ends as quickly as it starts when Biba’s friend Haider (Ali Junejo) plops down between them, silencing the other woman and leaving the pair in a fit of quiet laughter. The striking scene reflects the film's ethos, which focuses on relationships and love rather than hinging on the trauma of trans discrimination. 

“Being a part of a project like this in Pakistan is not only about art and filmmaking, it’s about resistance, and it’s about protest,” said actor Sania Saeed, who plays supporting character Fayyaz. Joyland follows a patriarchal Pakistani family desperate for a son to carry on the family name. Meanwhile, the clan’s youngest son finds himself falling for a transgender erotic dancer. At its core, Joyland is a love story that examines sexual rebellion and repressed desire, rare themes to explore in a Muslim country where homosexuality remains illegal.

In a press statement, Sadiq described Joyland as “a heartbroken love letter to my homeland” — one that made history as the first Pakistani film to premiere at Cannes, where it picked up the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and Queer Palme in May. Following the Cannes screening, the film received a 10-minute standing ovation, bringing Sadiq and his cast to tears long after the audience took their seats. When the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, where I spoke with the filmmakers and cast, the sold-out crowd again rose from their seats. Joyland has enraptured audiences and garnered critical acclaim partly because the film offers an unexpected window into everyday aspects of Pakistani life typically obscured by stigma.