Under pressure from conservatives, the federal government banned Saim Sadiq’s Joyland a few days before its countrywide release. After severe backlash on social media and mainstream media, the federal government finally reconsidered its decision and lifted the ban on Joyland. Less than 24 hours after the federal government decided to lift the ban, the Punjab government of issued a notice to the film’s producer, Sarmad Khoosat, saying that they cannot exhibit the film in the jurisdiction of Punjab province. Joyland is the country’s official entry for the Oscars, paving the way for Pakistan to make a name at the Academy Awards, with a bright chance to bring the Oscar home.
So how did a film promising to spread joy, receiving a 10-minute standing ovation from the august audience at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, ended up getting banned in its own country and the very province it was filmed in, Punjab. Set in the eastern city of Lahore, Joyland tackles issues of gender and sexuality – taboo topics in Pakistan – through the story of a married man who falls in love with a transgender dancer, played by transgender actress Alina Khan. From what we understand, the story is about love, acceptance and tackling issues in relevance to gender. So the problem is basically because of the love between a transgender and a man in the movie.
Any marginalised community in a country goes through struggles and challenges of its own. From their right to live to their right to freedom, their existence revolves around many obstacles. Pakistan is no different. The transgender community in Pakistan is a marginalised community that on a daily basis is ridiculed, harassed, abused, and given life threats. And this has been a pattern for many years. So the treatment with “Joyland” has been no different.
The question is: what are we scared of? Does the representation of a marginlised community make us weak as a nation or does it make us stronger? How is upholding the ban in the wake of no real logic correct? How is Joyland a threat to the country’s cultural and social fabric? Pakistani cinema was in need of a moment like Joyland, until the bans which took away the joy from the land where transgenders are only laughed at, mocked, abused and not to forget, killed. It is acceptable to show transgenders being made fun of, but once they are shown as normal persons, living normal lives, it somehow becomes problematic and against social values. Isn’t it hypocritical of us? Joyland was one way people could understand and learn the pain and troubles the trans community goes through. But systems in Pakistan work and behave differently for the ones who are ‘different’. So here we are banning a film on a transgender and barring them an existence in fiction. Now imagine their existence in the real world. What is peculiarly interesting about the public outcry for the ban on “Joyland” is from people who are up in arms against a movie they haven’t seen.
We as a nation want to see the cinema and film industry thrive — but look at what we do to people who are the reason that art, film and Pakistan can flourish. We are habitual haters of a thriving society. We just hope that Punjab, which has significantly become a “joyless land” learns from the provinces next to it, remembers to laugh, be okay to experiment and above all, becomes a joyland.