It’s finally releasing where it was supposed to all along: Saim Sadiq on Joyland's Pakistan release

Director said the film received rave reviews abroad but he's curious to see what conversation will it start here

Simran Siraj November 07, 2022

Tired from a day full of promotions, director Saim Sadiq and actor Alina Khan wanted to make the last interview of the lot into an unwinding experience. They ditched the conference room setup, sat right on the couch and drew a long sigh, as I went through the magical experience of watching the now-released trailer of Joyland, twice... because once simply was not enough.

“It’s a very exciting time,” Sadiq tells The Express Tribune a few weeks before the release of the Cannes winner in Pakistan. “There’s a lot of anxiety pre-release but it’s exciting that the film will finally release where it was supposed to. It was always made for the local audience. I’m excited that they will get to see it, but more importantly, I’m excited to hear what they think of it because we’ve already had a lot of reviews from people abroad. We know they liked it, but I’m curious to see what the conversation is going to be like here.”

However, he did take into account that the reaction can be different here. “Any other debate or discourse that comes out of it, even if it’s not pleasant, as long as it's civil and it leads to people talking to each other and sharing their different views, is okay. If one person identifies with Haider’s character more, the other will relate to Mumtaz or Biba, that’s what’s interesting about this film. There’s something for everyone to relate with and they’ll have something to talk about after the film instead of ‘bus, maza aya’.”

Empathy isn’t controversial

Sadiq went on to add how the script for Joyland was not made with the intent to offend but with the intent to make people empathise with what makes them uncomfortable otherwise– and it’s not just the involvement of a trans person in the film or it being “LGBTQ+” as people term it to be.

“You see love and pain are the most universal emotions regardless of your age, religion, or gender. Think of Salman Peerzada, he’s a 70-year-old man in a wheelchair and he still wishes to experience love and has to experience pain. It’s what makes being alive fun,” says the director highlighting that the award-winning film essentially explores themes that, if you think about it, should not be taboo topics. However, what we choose to do about those, falls in the wrong realm and hence, makes us uncomfortable.

“For example, an older man or woman desiring anything or doing PDA makes people and especially children uncomfortable. Why? They’re married and should be allowed to be affectionate but in our society, if a man shouts at her wife, the children are okay but if he so much as hugs her, it gets uncomfortable like ‘get a room' or something,” Sadiq chuckles a sorry laugh. “So you get how there are things in this movie that does fall in the realm of everything normal, but still make people uncomfortable because of how our society and culture are informed over the years. I think that dichotomy is something that all characters are experiencing in the film and what binds them together. Fortunately, or unfortunately.”

Malala for Oscars

Joyland is Pakistan’s official submission to Oscars 2023 and shortly after that was announced in late September, Pakistani activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai joined the film as an executive producer. Speaking about the Academy Awards, Sadiq said it’s a long process for that, and things will start looking up if they get shortlisted in December, but for now, his “primary” focus is on the Pakistan release, and everything else is a bonus.

“Of course, with the Oscars, there’s optimism and excitement but the intent is for the film to be seen and the Oscars will enable that eventual goal. I want all kinds of people to see it instead of it becoming a niche for people who already agree with my point,” he said, which essentially is why they onboarded Malala.

“Her involvement is particularly important for the campaign. She is there to promote the film, have it screened and introduce it at festivals. That’s what she did in London also. Campaigning is a big part of the Oscars. One can pretend that it’s only about the quality of the film but it’s not,” exclaimed Sadiq in all honesty. “There’s a whole process where you need to make people watch the film so that they can vote for it. To make people watch it, everyone sort of brings a celebrity on board to promote it, and in that way, I think she will help a lot!”

But keeping that aside, Sadiq and the whole Joyland cast were amazed by her dedication to the project so far. “We met her, she is the loveliest, cutest human being in the world, almost like a child. She’s 25, not a child, but when I saw her, I was like ‘Woah, you’re a baby,’” he laughs.

“When she did the introduction for Joyland in London, she wrote it down and asked me questions. She has a million things to do, and yet she came on board for this small movie It was admirable to see her dedication and optimism for every little and big thing she does.

Biba is nothing like Alina

Biba and Khan may be dancers but that’s where their similarities end. Khan revealed that her character is, in fact, nothing like who she is in real life. “In real life, I’m very quiet, calm and suljhi huwi (decent). But if I talk about Biba, she’s aggressive, fierce, loud and even dodgy at times,” she says laughing out loud.

“There were many scenes that see an angry Biba. I had to be violently aggressive or have that tone, and I had to think a lot about those scenes specifically to prepare,” she said. Describing her character’s main struggles in the film, Khan noted that her main struggle is “to bring acceptance into the world.”

Joyland’s working title was once Mehfil and then Darlings because Joyland shares the same world as his short titled Darlings. “The theatre culture in Pakistan only sees transgenders as dancers for in-between intervals. That, and there are a lot of other things that Biba wishes to change in her life but she doesn’t protest against it. She knows she will have to work hard to be competent enough to stand between people and make her name—that’s her main struggle,” says Khan.

Khan also noted how difficult it was to fit into the character and come at par with her co-actors especially since she didn’t share the same acting experience as them. “Saim sir told me that I will have to work harder than everyone else in the film. My goal was to nail Biba the best way I could, because, in my head, it was the first and possibly the last opportunity for me to act in a film that shows my true identity.”

The actor was glad Sadiq wrote her character as not a mere victim or a joke but actually thought about our lives beyond that as a hardworking, stubborn, angry, dream chaser—a whole person with a striking personality. “I loved that,” said Khan.

Another thing that Sadiq wanted in Biba that was unlike Khan was her weight. “Saim sir had told me that I’ll have to gain weight for the film. He wanted a healthier Biba,” says Khan as Saim interrupted that she never gained any.

Recalling a funny anecdote, Khan almost controlling her smile, said, “It was a 16-hour shoot and we were done dancing for hours. Ali [Junejo] and I were exhausted, and I had my legs up on a table. I glance at my feet, and I tell him, ‘Ali, did I get fat? Look at my legs, they’re bigger!’ and I was so happy that Saim sir is finally getting what he wanted but Ali shouted, ‘No, idiot. You didn’t get fat, your legs are swollen’.”

Sadiq, hysterically laughing, chimed in, “It’s so bad because the song is not even in the film now, it got edited out later.”

Meant to be ma-joy-cal

Sadiq’s biggest pride is how his actors brought him all the “glee and joy” in the world. While the director said he actively decided to not think in metaphors for Joyland, one of his scenes had such magic that made him feel “greatness was meant to happen.”

Speaking about the first scene from the trailer, he said, “The one where Haider tells the machar-murgi joke to Biba, is actually really long. It's a 5-6 minute scene and it was a one-take. They’re sitting on opposite ends, they move a lot, and we need it in a single take. You won’t believe it when I say there was something that happened there that was magical.”

Excited, Sadiq continued, “Somehow all things aligned from the cheap fluorescent light making shapes to a glass that broke.”

Sheepishly smiling at the fact that a “glass-breaking” moment is one of his favourites from the film, he adds, “Originally I had written that it breaks but we couldn’t do that because the producers were like they could get hurt so I made that compromise. It was actually a very thick glass and there were two carpets for safety concerns. It did not break for 5-6 takes, except the final one. It also threw them off but as characters. Ali started picking it up and in my head, I was secretly hoping that the focus is okay and everything goes fine and it did.”

Joyland will release in Pakistan on November 18.


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