Pakistan’s ‘Joyland’ aims for more joy as Cannes winds up

Cannes, May 27: Lahore-based Saim Sadiq has made history as the first Pakistani writer-director to premiere a film as part of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival.
Introducing his debut feature “Joyland” at its unveiling at the ongoing 75th edition of the festival, Sadiq, who has an MFA from Columbia University, said: “My life from now on will be pre-Joyland and post-Joyland.”
The 31-year-old director’s film, given the enthusiastic response it has elicited here, is in with a chance of making some more history when the Un certain regard awards are handed out on Friday evening.
“Joyland” is also in contention for the Camera d’Or, the Cannes award for the best debut film.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed,” says Sadiq, whose 2019 film “Darling”, from which a significant part of the “Joyland” plot has emerged, won the award for the best short film at the 76th Venice Film Festival.
Sadiq admits to nurturing a soft corner for Venice because he had been there and had tasted success. “I completed the ‘Joyland’ shoot in November,” he says. “I was editing the film when we decided to apply for Cannes official selection. The idea was to take chances everywhere.”
“Joyland”, a sensitive and multi-layered drama that shrugs off many a gender portrayal trope, is about a Lahore family that is set in its patriarchal ways.
The household’s younger son (Ali Junejo), who isn’t conventionally masculine, lands a job in an erotic theatre and develops a relationship with a transwoman, sparking off a series of quiet domestic rebellions involving not just him but also his childless wife (Rasti Farooq) and sister-in-law (Sarwat Gilani), a mother of three girls.
The five-member Un certain regard jury is headed by veteran Italian director-actress-producer Valeria Golino. The jury includes American director Debra Granik and Polish actress Joanna Kulig.
The Camera d’Or jury is led by Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, best known for her films with Pedro Almodovar, from “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” to “Parallel Mothers”.
Studded with superb performances from a cast in perfect consonance with the film’s spirit and timbre, “Joyland” benefits the most from the presence of a transgender actor Alina Khan, another first in the context of the cinema of the subcontinent.
Alina played the lead of “Darling”, too. “I had already scripted my short film before she came on board. I found her five days before the shoot began,” says Sadiq.
Alina Khan was an automatic choice for the role in “Joyland”. “It was a huge help that she was there from the very outset for the feature film,” says Sadiq.
“I could call her and engage with her at the writing stage itself. For every aspect of the character, I had to take her consent. She would enlighten me on how she would feel, talk and act in specific situations,” he adds.
Sadiq reveals that, during the casting process, he was in talks with a big Indian actress for a key role in “Joyland”, but she wanted to play the transwoman, “which obviously was a much flashier part”.
He, however, chose to stick with Alina Khan although he knew that he “would get a much bigger audience in Pakistan had he cast the Indian actress.”
Without naming her, he adds: “She is huge.”
“It wasn’t a politically correct thing that I was doing. I cast Alina because I honestly believed that she would be the best for the part,” says Sadiq.
The “Joyland” cast also includes Salman Peerzada, whose father Rafi Peer had a starring role in India’s entry at the first-ever Cannes Film Festival in 1946 — Chetan Anand’s “Neecha Nagar”. (PTI)