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Uzma Hasan: The filmmaker shares all about the much anticipated British Asian film, Londonstani

Business Life 09-03-2021

Uzma Hasan has been developing Gautam Malkani’s cult novel Londonstani with her producing partner Cavan Ash, for nearly a decade. Now, with Nirpal Bhogal writing and directing (known for being nominated at the London Film Festival as ‘Best British Newcomer’), pre-production is underway. Uzma speaks to Nima Suchak about the story set to move cultural understanding of British Asian communities.

WARNING – Viewer discretion advised. The above trailer contains adult content, unsuitable for children and strong language which may offend some viewers.

What was it about Londonstani that made you decide to turn it into a film?

When the book came out, I read it pretty much in one sitting. I got so excited because I had never read anything that depicted British Asians in that way, it was such a fresh and exciting novel. I knew immediately I wanted to make it into a movie. Once we teamed up with Nirpal, a filmmaker who had lived and breathed that world, we realised we had something special.

For those who haven’t read the book, can you describe Londonstani?

The book is an inspiration for the film. What we take from it is the world—the characters, the rudeboy speak, the music and the tone which shifts between humour and drama. It’s a coming-of-age story which set in the 90’s, an intensely important time for British Asians. Londonstani is about Asian masculinity, boys growing up pre 9/11, pre social media, and trying to find their identity when torn between different cultures and worlds.

So who are the main characters?

The story is told through Jas, a boy who is struggling with the loss of his mother and trying to find his place in the world. When we first meet him, he has just latched on to this rudeboy culture, an identity that he feels can protect him and teach him how to be a man. His “boys” – Amit, Ravi and Hardjit – are his constant companions, always joking, fighting and being the local “desi mafia.” Samira, the girl he adores, is a strong, intelligent Muslim woman devoid of all of the usual clichés and is in many ways the moral centre of the film. Then there is his father, a man who is grieving himself and struggling to give his son the emotional attention he needs. And Sanjay, the multi-millionaire who arrived at his fortune in the wrong way, who is trying to get Jas to follow his lead.

How does it address the Asian experience of racism?

Although Londonstani is not a political film, for a British Asian filmmaking team to be making an authentic film about our own community, especially in this pre-911 world, it feels like a political act. In that way the film shows the truth that many of us battled with, there is no one way to deal with racism, especially the overt and physical racism of the 90s. The film shows the rudeboys fighting back when being called “P**is,” whereas Jas’ Dad would have kept his head down and moved on. Sanjay on the other hand is of the opinion that you don’t fight the racists, you buy them, you employ them. It shows the struggle that many British South Asians have, “What’s the best way to deal with this man calling me the ‘P’ word?”

What excites you about it? What can you tell me about the soundtrack? The settings?

Casting this movie is beyond exhilarating. Never before has a British movie been in a position to break through a whole generation of Asian talent which will leave a lasting legacy. We’re excited about the truth behind our characters, about our director’s total knowledge of this world and authenticity and joy he can bring. We’re excited about Samira, a three-dimension brown woman who is more than just a prop.

On top of all that, we have the music, a massive part of this movie, encompassing several different music landscapes – from old school Bollywood music that Jas’s dad listens to, to the gangsta rap and hip hop the rudeboys are very much into. The incredible Nitin Sawhney is composing the score, which is really exciting and testament to the quality of the material.

There is a strong cultural connection to British Asians who grew up in the 90s which isn’t usually depicted in movies. How do you feel it might be received? Nostalgic, uncomfortable, fun?

My hope is that it’s all those things. We really want to make something that is not only celebratory but reminds us of where we come from and what our journey was. In the 90s there was an explosion of first generation British Asians, and that world has never been seen on screen.

Do you think the present generation will connect to that experience?

At its core, it’s an intensely universal story which all audiences can relate to. Every teenager has to work out who they are in relation to parents, their environment, their friends and carve out their own space. For the most part, this generation has been lucky in that we fought a lot of battles in order for them not to get called p***s.

For any political movement to evolve—whether its feminism or the fight for racial justice—one has to understand the specific context of where we are and how racism shapes itself in this country. It’s important for the next generation to understand where that comes from, what it has looked like in the past in order to continue to change in the future.

How is Londonstani funded? Why might it appeal to British Asian investors?

We’ve received a large portion of the finance from the BFI, but one of the things that we are uniquely trying to do is to get British Asian investment into this film. Traditionally British Asian investors have remained conservative in terms of their investment portfolio. We’re hoping that this film will change their mind; that its appeal will be both financial and because of its cultural impact. There’s simply nothing like it out there right now and we know it will help shift cultural understanding of British Asian communities. The power of film is unparalleled in shaping and changing people’s opinions and Londonstani is not only going to be a brilliant film, but also an archive of a time that was crucial in British cultural history. That’s why attracting British Asian investors to this would be so powerful. Our culture is rarely depicted in an authentic light. We’ve got to take back that narrative so we can say to our children that we are part of the culture of this society and here is something that demonstrates and gives a bit of insight into that. Otherwise we’re perpetually marginalised and seen as visitors or guests. We are not guests. We are part of what makes this country great.

Capital 36, a division of Asian Wealth, is bringing investors into this project. For more information regarding this investment, get in touch with Sunny Patel at [email protected]

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