In a patriarchal society, anything that destabilizes gender norms becomes the cause of great trouble and panic. In “Joyland,” Saim Sadiq constantly creates tension as his characters aspire to redefine traditional values and expectations. Haider, the youngest son of the Rana family, enjoys spending time at home helping his sister-in-law, Nucchi, with household chores. His wife, Mumtaz, was a working professional, and the couple, in their own way, broke the stereotypical gender expectation. The film begins with Nucchi’s fourth pregnancy; after her water breaks, she calmly asks Haider to take her to the hospital and promises to bring home a brother for her three daughters. The three little girls watched their mother leave, and while they were loved and cherished in the household, they could not bring the same joy and honor that the birth of a boy could.
‘Joyland’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
After delivering the baby, Nucchi learned that it was a girl. She was visibly disappointed since she was told that she had been carrying a boy all along. Saleem was a caring husband who was content knowing that his wife and their daughter were doing well. Women are often subjected to ridicule when they fail to give birth to a son to carry the family line. They are blamed for their inability to produce a boy, and Nucchi is not unaware of that feeling of being a disappointment. Saleem’s father was known for not mincing his words, and the entire family tiptoed around him. Soon after giving birth, Nucchi was back to running the entire household with Haider’s help.
Meanwhile, when Haider admitted Nucchi to the hospital, he came across a woman drenched in blood. There was something about her that caught his attention, even in that brief moment. Haider was laughed at for being a man who lived off his wife’s income. His masculinity was questioned for his inability to control his wife. When Haider was offered a job as a background dancer for erotic theater, he was completely against it. While he was desperate to get a job, he was not ready to give away his honor. His friend explained how money compensates for lost honor and that once he starts paying the bills, his family will not care how he earned money. Haider was not a dancer, but he decided to give it a try, knowing that only a job would bring him respect. He met the woman he had seen at the hospital; she was Biba, an erotic dancer. As a trans woman, Biba had to fight for her space at the theater every day, and Haider became a person she could trust in a world where none remained faithful. Haider was awestruck by her beauty and her ability to fight her bullies. He felt safe in her presence. During their practice rehearsal, Haider stated that his only onstage experience was the time he was a part of his school’s Romeo and Juliet play. When Biba asked him about the role he played, he replied that he was cast as Juliet. Haider was not ashamed of the fact that he played the role of a woman; unlike the men around him, he could never fit into the idea of what a man should be. The masculine expectation is something he could never fulfill since, even as a man, he enjoyed the tasks or habits that are often described as feminine and, therefore, unmanly.
When Haider got the job, he lied to his family, saying that he had been accepted as the new theater manager. While his father did not approve of his son working at an erotica theater, when he was told the amount of money he would earn, he considered it. He advised Haider not to disclose his job to the people around him since it could bring shame to the family. The moment Haider got a job, Mumtaz was expected to leave her job and contribute to the household by helping Nucchi. No one cared about her wishes or interests; since she was a woman, taking care of the household was what was expected of her. Of course, a woman’s job is a hobby, while a man’s is a necessity.
What Brought Biba And Haider Together?
Haider noticed the struggle Biba had to go through simply to exist. The audience was never interested in watching her perform, and she was reduced to an interval dancer. She wanted her cutout to be used in the theater like the other dancers; she dreamed of performing to a larger crowd where she would not just be a piece of meat but an actual performer. She was aware of the discussions that the men around her indulged in, but she had the strength to fight off anyone who dared to humiliate her. Therefore, even amidst all her struggles, Biba was the epitome of strength, and Haider admired her. He never had the courage to fight off his father, who dominated every aspect of his life. He could not stand up for his wife, even though he knew how passionate she was about her job. He wanted her to work, but he never fought for her in the household. He simply agreed with the decision of his brother and father when the argument got too heated. Haider wanted to be someone like Biba—someone who never shied away from expressing themselves, someone who had the courage to fight for what they believed in, and someone who could challenge the way society functioned. Therefore, the more he was with Biba, the more he felt courageous and rebellious.
Haider was a married man, but he was attracted to Biba. He knew that the world around him would crash if anyone found out, but being with Biba was quite a freeing experience for him. With her, Haider could be vulnerable; he did not have to be the man that society expected him to be; he could just be the shy, soft-spoken, submissive man that he was. Biba was his space of comfort, rebellion, and contentment. His relationship with Mumtaz was one of friendship and understanding. She was quite the opposite of Haider, and perhaps it was her dominant personality that attracted him. Biba was quite straight about what she wanted in life, and gender reaffirmation was her ultimate goal. She did not care about Haider’s opinion because becoming a woman was the journey she wanted to go through. Haider loved Biba’s masculine power and feminine energy, and perhaps that is what made him vocally express how much he loved her the way she was. She was angered by his failure to understand her. Their expectations of the relationship were quite different. Biba wanted her partner to treat her as the woman she was, whereas for Haider, being with Biba was his way of going against societal expectations. Their differences in what they wanted from the relationship are what ultimately led to their separation.
‘Joyland’ Ending Explained: Why Did Mumtaz Take Her Life? What Is The Significance Of The Last Scene?
Mumtaz lost her identity after she was forced to leave her job and focus on household chores. She was the happiest when she worked as a makeup assistant, and she hoped to one day buy an air conditioner with the money she saved. After leaving her job, she struggled to find her goal in life, and the lack of meaning to her existence overwhelmed her. She never wanted to become a housewife; therefore, when her family wanted her to accept Haider’s marriage proposal, she asked him if she could work after marriage. Haider had happily agreed to her condition then, but it all changed after he got the theater job. Not only was Mumtaz unsatisfied in her professional life, but her sex life had taken a toll after Haider started working late at night. Nuchhi’s children would often sleep in the same bed with them, creating further distance between Mumtaz and Haider. She could feel Haider slipping away from her, and she tried to satisfy her needs by looking at the neighbor through a binocular at night.
Mumtaz felt all the more lost when she was told that she was pregnant. While the family celebrated the possibility of welcoming home a boy, all Mumtaz wanted to do was run away. Becoming a mother meant that she would be further tied down with responsibility, and she was not sure if that was what she wanted. She no longer had control over her life; she simply lived for those around her. Nuchhi, Saleem, and Haider knew how tough the entire situation was for Mumtaz, but none of them tried to listen to her cry for help. When the entire family gathered to celebrate the patriarch’s birthday, Mumtaz started playing with the children. Even though she was pregnant, she ran after them. Her visible hysteria was her loudest cry, but nobody cared to acknowledge it. She decided to take her life in the bathroom by drinking floor cleaner. After taking a sip of it, Haider knocked on the door. She opened the door for him, and even though she had the floor cleaner in her hand, Haider did not notice it. He was so consumed by all his problems that he did not look at her closely. It was heartbreaking to know how he could have saved her life if he had cared a little. Maybe Mumtaz, too, hoped for him to notice while she held the bottle in her hand.
Mumtaz died that night, and Biba came to her funeral. Saleem could not get over how unfair it was to the entire family. Even after her death, all he could think about was how she had disgraced their family by killing the baby she was carrying along with her. Her life was insignificant to him, and he did not waste a minute shaming the dead. Nuchhi could not take it anymore; she had grown close to Mumtaz, and she was aware of how Mumtaz was suffering. Yet, just like everyone else, she chose to remain silent. Everyone in the household was playing the role that they were expected to, not what they wanted. It was the same for Mumtaz, and she chose to die rather than not have any control over her life. After all, death allowed her to exert her choice one last time.
We do not know what happened between Biba and Haider. Their difference was far too deep to be solved as easily, but surely they remained in touch. What we do know is that Haider finally went to the beach. He had never experienced the vastness of the ocean, and after Mumtaz’s death, he finally visited the beach. Haider leaving his hometown and traveling signifies how the death of Mumtaz pushed him to release himself from the duties he was bound to and do what he truly wanted to. All his life, he had lived under the shadow of his father, dying every day a little, but in the end, he chose to surround himself with limitless possibilities.
The beauty of “Joyland” lies in its well-thought-out characters. The conflicts that each of them faces in their lives are skillfully expressed in the film. “Joyland” is colorful and aesthetically pleasing; some frames remain etched in my mind well after watching it.