I finally watched Joyland tonight with a friend. A beautiful movie that I recommend to everyone. Please watch it if you get the time and the chance.
One key thing that the writers and actors have been stressing throughout the promotion of the movie: there are no heroes in this film, everyone is flawed. Knowing this before watching the movie helped me view each of the characters critically, as I was aware that none of the characters were supposed to serve as my moral compass.
Haider, the main character, is a rejection of traditional masculine values. Everything about him is feminine: the way he speaks, his relationship with his wife, his role as a dancer, and his passivity in his relationship with Biba. In all the roles Haider plays, we see him being uncomfortable with the concept of being a dominant, controlling man. His unconventional lifestyle leads him to the exploration of his own desires and identity. The fact that the main character of a Pakistani movie rejects masculinity to such an extent is incredibly refreshing, in a time of Maula Jutts and Zarrars. I think its incredibly important for Pakistani men to view a story where a man embraces femininity to such an extent. We rarely get to see stories of men that aren't plagued with masculinity, and for male viewers to be able to identify with Haider as a main character.
Mumtaz, Haider's wife, is a projection of the frustration Pakistani women experience with Pakistani femininity. It was refreshing to see a woman so frustrated with the gendered norms around her, especially surrounding her role as a wife and the expectations surrounding her to become a mother. In one scene, she (spoiler alert), packs her bags and leaves her home, frustrated with her husband's treatment of her. How often have Pakistani women contemplated doing the same? She serves as a rejection of the traditional feminine values in a way that has never been seen in Pakistani cinema before. Too often, we see women in cinema accept their situation without complaint, and female viewers are taught to silently submit to the oppressive forces in their life. Mumtaz teaches them that they do not have to silently listen to the men in their lives. Despite her playing a minor role compared to the others, it feels revolutionary, as it provides a role that most Pakistani women can identify and empathize with. Her rationality throughout the whole film teaches them that hitting the hills is not too unreasonable an idea when confronted with patriarchy.
And finally, Biba, my favorite character. Biba's character embodies gender freedom. When rejected by Pakistani society, she's both suffocated and free. She returns home to her community, with whom she openly drinks, smokes and jokes around with. She does not shy away from snapping at the men who disrespect her - commanding them around, and in one scene grabbing the throat of and spitting in the face of one. She is free to dance and dress as "provocatively" as she pleases. She has no "image" to maintain. At the same time, she experiences an unbearable amount of ostracization for her gender identity. In one scene, she is told to leave the seat reserved for women, and go sit with the men, which she refuses to do. For her, her insistence in living a way typical Pakistani women are not expected to live is her own expression of femininity. For the first time, people who don't identify with the strict gender binary in Pakistan have a positive role to identify with. Biba teaches viewers that they don't need to fall within the bounds of a "good" woman, or that they can even create their own definitions of femininity or masculinity if they so choose. She openly debunks certain stereotypes surrounding the Khwajasira community, teaching the audience directly to treat the Khwajasira community with respect and empathy.
Who is the audience for the film? What are they taking away from it? Considering the controversy and buzz surrounding the release of the film, its safe to say that majority of the audience would be young adults who have been keeping up with the media circus as well as the directors statements, and would therefore have heeded the advice to watch the movie and interpret the characters critically. Such a small heads up could be enough to let the viewer know that the stereotypes they are about to encounter must be viewed critically, especially regarding the character of Biba. Therefore, I would not be too worried about viewers of this film taking away stereotypes at face value: the movie's notoriety has ensured that viewers are aware they must not internalize blindly what they are about to see.