Seeing Red, Showing Pink
This one is personal for director Ian Iqbal Rashid.
He may have titled his film Touch of Pink, but writer/director Ian Iqbal Rashid was really seeing red.
He admits: “Making this film is an affectionate form of revenge against all I had to put up with in my own family. Choosing to be a filmmaker went so against the immigrant dream my family had adopted of me becoming a doctor or dentist or some sort of professional. When I told them, I felt like I had just announced that I was going to become a baby-killer, or something. These immigrant values are reflected in the South Asian community in this film.”
He points to the pressure on Alim, the film’s main character, to do the right thing by becoming successful in conventional terms. “Alim can only escape this pressure by putting an ocean between him and his family. Yet as the film progresses, he realizes that by running away, he has also rejected a big part of who he is.”
Touch of Pink, Rashid’s first feature film , icenters around a muslim South Asian Canadian, Alim, who lives in London estranged from his family until the upcoming wedding of his Canadian cousin forces him to reconnect with widowed mother, Nuru and in doing so, accept his culture and heritage.
Nuru dreams of having Alim return to Toronto and settle down with a proper Muslim bride and has no idea that Alim is in fact in two releationships – one with his boyfriend Giles and the other with his imaginary personal mentor, the spirit of Cary Grant, a manifestation of his love for old Hollywood movies and his need for a father figure.
For Rashid, an Indian Ismaili Muslim, who was born in Dar-e-Salaam, moved to Toronto when he was 6, then on to London in his early 20s, where he lives now, the movie “was very autobiographical” with the exception of the spirit of Cary Grant who he is quite sure is not with him.
“It’s based on my life and my relationship with my mother and my love of old Hollywood films. So all the material in the film is sourced from my own life. I guess I just wanted to tell an old fashioned Hollywood style movie, but with someone like me in the center”.
Rashid entered the television industry 12 years ago to critical acclaim by writing scripts for British TV series, including the award winning show “This Life.” His introduction to the film media started four years ago when he wrote and directed two award winning short films “Surviving Sabu,” a story about a young South Asian man and his father documenting the life of desi film star Sabu and “Stag,” the story of a South Asian man’s pre-wedding night experiences.
From Rashid’s choice of themes in his film career so far, he seems to have a lot to say about his South Asian heritage.
He explains, “For a lot of South Asians living in the west who experience a dominant culture and particularly as it’s kind of filtering through Hollywood and television, I think often, even without being conscious of it, we have a sort of inferiority complex; even a level of self-hating.”
“There’s a tight-rope walk between assimilating into Western culture, and yet keeping a sense of who you are. The process of assimilation can erase aspects of identity, both cultural and personal, which are special and unique. Yet, it’s very seductive to become part of a dominant culture, to belong to the home team – and Touch of Pink is about that as well.”
In addition to the east meets west theme, Rashid also addressed two lifestyle choices, which are traditionally thought of as unconventional for South Asians – in particular, his career in the entertainment industry and his homosexuality.
In the film, Rashid also attempts to show Hollywood’s influence on the South Asian communities in the East. Nuru, Alim’s mother, grew up watching old, often outdated, Hollywood movies and fantasizing about moving to the west with its promises of glamour and freedom. Her disillusionment when she eventually moved and was able to see the western society as it really was may have led to her rejection of films and all things Hollywood.
On the issue of homosexuality, Rashid explains that “There is so much hypocrisy on this subject and a lot of suffering, because there are a lot of … gay men and lesbians who are getting married and having children. A lot of lives are being impacted. They are leading double lives and it’s very painful. And rather than sweep it under the rug its time to kind of address it. Years ago when I was in Toronto I set up a gay men’s group when I was in university called Khush and we invited South Asian gay men to come. Our first meeting we had 50 people arrive … It’s there, it’s an issue. So I have had lots of young South Asian gay men come up to me in tears because they are so grateful for this film and they want to bring their parents to it when it comes out and try and set up a kind of dialogue and kind of open the door to talking to their families about what their lives are about.”
One Muslim man touched Rashid in particular when he admitted, “I’ve never told anyone this before but I have lived my whole life as a straight man. I’ve married, I have grown up children, my wife just died.”
According to Rashid “It’s the first time he’s seen something that spoke to him and gave him hope so I feel already with those responses that I’ve won.”
While Rashid is trying to come to terms with his South Asian identity and personal life choices, Jimi Mistry, who plays the lead character, on the other hand, seems to consider himself mainly as British.
He clarifies: “That’s kinda where I was born and raised and whatever my cultural background is. My father’s Indian and my mother is Anglo-Irish. I have that as part of my life and its very much part of my background, but my identity is British.” He has admitted in past interviews to Michael Jackson and John Travolta being his inspirations growing up.
Unlike Rashid, Mistry came into his career aspirations later in life and his family was instrumental in his choice.
He admits, “If it wasn’t for my dad I wouldn’t have been acting. He is the one that steered me into this career. When I was 17, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I wasn’t doing particularly well in school. I wasn’t excelling in academic subjects. I was a bit of a drifter.
“I was a little dreamy … liked music and singing and going down to the pub and playing pool and I was just a bit of a normal, everyday boy… My dad’s a doctor and he sat me down when I was 17 and said Jimmy what are you going to do, because you are not going in any direction here? And I said I don’t know what I want to do. And he said you better go upstairs and write a list of the things you want to do with your life and the things you think you are good at and bad at and come downstairs and we’re going to match. We’re going to do this pragmatically and we’re going to come up with something. I said fine… I had done a school play and it kind of came down to acting and he said he believed that this may be the direction; I went to acting school”.
Mistry says, “The first time I realized that I was a part of a minority was when I got into this business. Up until then it never really occurred to me… People like to bracket you in certain areas and I refuse to be bracketed.
Over the years I have managed to play interesting, good, really good South Asian characters, but I have also managed to play characters of no specific background, which as an actor is a major barrier to break. It doesn’t get any easier at all, but things do start to happen if you keep believing in what you are doing.”
Mistry credits his success to his belief in his own abilities and his stubborn refusal “to play the small minority parts, even though that may be the only option when you are starting out in your career with a South Asian background.
Although he claims he “will at some point,” Mistry has not yet learned Hindi. “I’m going to do it; it’s just having the time and the commitment to do it. Learning Hindi would be taking a risk… I think that to be honest the time that I will have to is the time when I would have to for a film or something and then I would get my head around it very quickly.”
Do we hear a touch for Bollywood in that?