Joyland: Saim Sadiq Celebrates Pakistan’s Transgender Culture

Celebrating Pakistan’s Transgender Culture

Courtesy of Film Constellation

Saim Sadig’s feature debut, Joyland, returns to the world of erotic theater that he had explored in his 2019 Venice Festival and SXSW winning movie, Darling.

Joyland premieres this week at Cannes Festival’s Un Certain Regard strand.

The title, the first Pakistani film to be selected in Cannes, is eligible for the Caméra d’Or, the top prize for first film.

The tale of sexual revolution sees a patriarchal family yearn for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and falls for an ambitious transsexual starlet.

Sadiq drew inspiration from his own family and a theater close to his home in Lahore. “I came from a very morally upright, middle-class conservative family, and to find out that this other world exists, literally like a 10-minute drive from my house, that I never knew of. It’s so different, the world of the theater, where sexuality is not such a taboo where women can get on stage and be in such positions of power, where this is a certain form of erotica,” Sadiq says.

“It’s the same people who are probably sitting at a family dinner in my house, who probably are later going in and watching those shows sometimes, and then pretending that they’re not the same person existing in both worlds. For me, it became an interesting way of examining myself, my family and the world around me with a particular focus on gender and intimacy,” Sadiq adds.

Pakistan has one of the most progressive transgender cultures in the world.

In 2018, Pakistan passed a landmark transgender rights bill that provides the country’s trans citizens with fundamental rights including prohibiting discrimination and harassment against them educationally and socially, allowing them to obtain driving licenses and passports and to change their gender in the national database at their own discretion.

“They were always part of the world that we lived in. They brought a certain sense of color and flamboyance and an owning up of desire in a certain way,” says Sadiq. The filmmaker said that the progress of Pakistan’s transgender community has been so swift that he had to pause writing the script because some narratives about them weren’t accurate anymore.

“From the time they were struggling and they had all these superstitions around them to now when they are actresses, doctors and news anchors, it’s a big, big shift that I’ve been fortunate enough to see in my life,” Sadiq says.

Production is by Apoorva Guru Charan, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat (“Circus of Life”) and Lauren Mann (“The Card Counter”). It was produced through All Caps and Khoosat Films in association with Diversity Hire, One Two Twenty Entertainment, Blood Moon Creative, Film Manufacturers, Astrakan and Noruz Films, from producers Kathryn M. Moseley, Oliver Ridge, April Shih, and Katharina Otto-Bernstein.

Executive producers are Ramin Bahrani, William Olsson, Jen Goyne Blake, Tiffany Boyle, Elsa Ramo, Oleg Dubson, Kathrin Lohmann, Hari Charana Prasad, Sukanya Puvvula and Owais Ahmed.

Producer Charan met Sadiq while they were both studying at Columbia film school and produced his 2018 short “Nowhere.”” I read the script. And I was like, I have to produce this, I felt it in my blood and veins that this film needed to exist,” says Charan.

Financing took a while to gather but the floodgates opened eventually. “I think this is the first Pakistani film that has all American financing. It was really a warm and welcoming feeling for me as an Indian producer based in Los Angeles.”

Charan hopes to show the film in India, but distribution might be tricky there as the relationship between Pakistan and India is politically fractious and there have been reciprocal bans on films.

“I obviously have a personal interest in making sure that Indian audiences as well are seeing it,” says Charan. “At the very least we would be looking at Indian film festivals. In distribution, we will definitely try.”

The film stars Ali Junejo, Alina Khan, Rasti Farooq, Sarwat Gilani, Sohail Sameer, Salman Peerzada, and Sania Saeed. Cinematography is by Joe Saade (“Costa Brava Lebanon,” “Broken Keys”).