Writing for The Bigger Picture, Welsh-Pakistani writer Yasmin Begum talks about how Joyland, the next BFI FAN New Release title, is set to transform how Pakistani film is experienced across the UK.
Joyland was Pakistan’s submission to the Academy Awards, and the first ever Pakistani film to be nominated for the prestigious awards. By default, it is the first Pakistani film to ever make an Oscars shortlist.
The film is about the Rana family, who live in the old city of Lahore in Panjab, Pakistan. Faisal is in an asexual marriage to his wife, Mumtaz, and his Father, Aman, longs and yearns for the birth of a second grandson. Amidst money troubles in the family, Faisal procures work, and winds up working as a back up dancer for Biba, a khawaja sira (a term for the transgender community) woman.
Written and directed by Saim Sadiq, and executive produced by Malala Yousafzai and Jemima Khan, it’s a moving drama about love, longing, loss, and desire. Joyland was banned (and then unbanned) in Pakistan ahead of its submission to the Academy Awards – but what does this mean for the Pakistani diaspora in terms of cinematic representation?
Queer representation in Pakistan
The Pakistani diaspora is the sixth largest in the world, and in England and Wales, they have historically made up the second largest ethnic minority group. In Scotland, South Asian people are the largest ethnic minority with most people having a Pakistani background, too. However despite this, Pakistani film is esoteric, magic, either very corporate, or very hard to come by.
‘Lollywood’ cinema (named after Lahore) died a quiet death during the Islamification process of Zia ul-Haq, but even in the UK, where ethnically diverse entertainment is championed, we don’t speak about Pakistani audiences with the nuance that exists within the term “Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic.”
Growing up in the legacy of Section 28 in Cardiff, Wales, depictions of queer or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or transgender people were minimal. Of course, there was Queer as Folk on Channel 4, and Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill was released in 2003 a few year after. There was also My Beautiful Laundrette and Said’s character on Eastenders, but most depictions of LGBT+ Pakistani people on-screen on British television sets and cinema screens have focused on cis men, and not trans women.
While homosexuality has been decriminalised in Britain for 67 years, in Pakistan, it’s still illegal: the law coming from the legacies of British imperialism.
As a Welsh-Pakistani, I have never seen an independently funded and made Pakistani film in an independent cinema in Britain. Pakistani film was often illicit, found only under the counter, on the internet, on the street, but never within official theatrical institutions like cinemas. This year marked an explosion of interest in Pakistani cinema, between Joyland and other releases such as The Legend of Maula Jatt, a world away from the standard Bollywood masala dramas that are pigeonholed in cinemas late at night on a Friday or at the weekend.
Joyland is a groundbreaking new film that explores what it means to be queer, what it means to be Pakistani, and what it means to explore yourself. Of course, there will be a special interest in this film from LGBT+ people, LGBT+ allies, and people of Pakistani descent… but this is the first Pakistani film in British history that will have a UK-wide theatrical distribution.
Non-Pakistani audiences will be introduced to Pakistani film for the first time. It is a landmark moment for Pakistani film in Britain, and queer film, too. When so many Pakistani spaces are normatively straight, so many film spaces are normatively white, and so many LGBT+ films fail to explore trans narratives, Joyland is an incendiary and insurrectionary film that is the beginning of a new wave of Pakistani cinema. Make sure that you watch it.
Yasmin Begum is a queer working class Welsh-Pakistani writer, artist and creative practitioner based in her home town of Cardiff, Wales. A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, she has since worked across film with Ffilm Cymru Wales, Inclusive Cinema, Cinema Golau, WOW Women’s Film Club, gentle/radical and as a programmer with the Wales Millennium Centre. Yasmin is a Welsh language speaker, and she is especially interested in decolonisation, philosophy, audience development and anti-racism.