Monday, September 27, 2004

AE Fond Kiss - Breaking Barriers

AE FOND KISS – Crossing religions and cultures, Romeo & Juliet, Muslim & Catholic, Scottish style

By Ashanti OMkar

Ken Loach, who is well known for his serious social dramas and his refreshing political views (being one of the founders of the enlightening Respect coalition), comes to us with his latest venture, the finale in his Scottish based trilogy of movies, ‘AE Fond Kiss’. He sets a well-researched love story, intermingling two cultures and two religions, both serious opposites of each other. Paul Laverty and Ken Loach spent many an hour, listening to real life stories of mixed relationships and the impact on the families of the couples, hence coming up with a poignant and very real tale, told, in my opinion, to perfection

The story revolves around two characters: Cassim (Atta Yaqub), a Second generation Glaswegian Muslim Asian entrepreneur and only boy child in the family, and Irish Catholic music teacher, Roisin (who teaches Cassim’s younger sister, Tahira). Choosing a stellar cast of Asian actors and the enchanting ‘goree’ female lead, Eva Birthistle, Ken, as usual, has done his job in being spot-on. For Eva, it was a huge leap from waiting tables in London, to taking on an unusual, yet fulfilling role, of one half of ‘star crossed lovers’, who seemingly have no future together, due to their inherent differences, but end with points to ponder, from all sides. According to Ken Loach, “the film has a complex ending, it is optimistic for the youngest in the family, aspiring journalist, Tahira (played by feisty Shabana Bakhsh), but not for the eldest in the family, Cassim’s sister, Ruksana (Ghizala Avan), who is made to go through lengths to make her life stable and as she wants it.” In Ken’s opinion, “the ending is not based on stereotypes, but on leaving it open for interpretation, and definitely giving the viewers food for thought.

Unusual for a Ken Loach film, were the extended ‘love making’ scenes, which are pivotal to the storyline, but would not be appreciated by the older generation of Asians. Ken tells us: “after the most intense and intimate scene, Cassim reveals the fact that his family expect him to marry his cousin from Pakistan, which leaves Roisin in a very emotional and vulnerable state of mind – this is vital to the story telling and adds an interesting aspect to the continuation of their relationship.”

Watch out for some very heartrending scenes and also those which hit home, in terms of racism, family ties and religion, they are all very potent and told in such a way that feels authentic. With the background music being subtle, mostly with the natural surrounding sound and the delightful use of the piano, at one scene where Cassim leaves Roisin’s flat, after having tinkered on her piano, which he took up to her room with some friends and as he reaches his car, he hears beautiful music, rich chords and complex arpeggio patterns, all from the simple tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. ‘Robert Burns’ song, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ as the film is titled, is sung in operatic style, by one of the music students and captures the intense love felt by the main protagonists in this film.

From a personal point of view, I would urge readers to keep an open mind and go to watch this captivating movie, with excellent acting and even better direction, it is a movie that the Third generation of Asians will truly enjoy and take in their stride, not to mention the ‘young at heart’ Second generation – just don’t watch it with the whole family.

We get an insight into the mind of main lead, Atta Yaqub, whose 1st venture is bound to get plenty of critical acclaim from the filmgoers, as has been from the film’s success at the Edinburgh Film Festival and also in France and Italy. Icon movies, who present this film to us, goes from strength to strength, with a very diverse choice of movies and sets it’s sights high to cater for all cultures of viewers.

What is your Asian cultural background and upbringing?

God, the question of identity raises again. I am a Muslim Pakistani with Scottish upbringing. Very proud of this fact and try to demonstrate my morals and ethics in all I do and have achieved.

Scotland and the accent - are these natural to you or did you have to learn?

Thankfully, the accent came natural to me; otherwise I would have struggled coping with the strong dialect. For the purpose of the film, accent and Scottish culture were important in my opinion as it gives a sense of realism to the script.

How were you discovered, as an actor - I believe this is your 1st silver screen outing?

1st silver screening, your right, and what an amazing achievement, not only the whole experience but having to work with Ken was superb. This was also my second acting display; the first (don’t know if this counts) was playing the lion in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in a school play. I was modeling part time for an agency and through them was able to be casted by the researcher for the film Kaline Crawford who had known there was an Asian guy on their books. Not knowing much about Ken at the time thankfully paid off, as my nerves were able to cope with the ease and comfort he made me feel. I was then invited back to several auditions, in which improvisation was a key element to my acting ability.

A fantastic film, with excellent acting and roles, not to mention spot on casting - what are your views on the final cut of AE Fond Kiss?

Pleased, especially since I know Ken Loach is. You have to admire and respect his work, since he has vast experience and knowledge he knows best. On a personal note, I was cringing the first time I seen the film, but then the Berlin Film Festival and the reception the film got there was incredible, therefore I began to relax and realize the emphasis the story has on a global level. For a first timer I think I did not bad, fingers crossed now that others begin to think this.

The main lead in a Ken Loach movie - indeed a great achievement - how did you feel, being cast into such a role? How did you fall into the role of Casim, as the movie progressed?

I was so excited that every day the adrenalin was high and I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I mean, I’m normal guy doing normal things and next minute you know it you’re the MAIN guy in a Ken Loach movie, unbelievable really. As the movie progressed, I began to understand and relate to Casim’s character. Leading a double life is something many Asian guys experience. As I became more comfortable with the surroundings and the cast, everything to be honest went positively and I continued to enjoy the experience.

The sex scenes - quite intimate and up close and personal - what were these like? You must have had a very close and intimate chemistry with Eva, to carry these off. Tell us your experiences.

Thankfully, Eva and I were able to get on and form a friendship with great ease; it was also helped by the fact that she is very attractive. We talked about these intimate scenes between one another and Ken, and we gave each other respect, so it all seemed to come naturally and without any falseness. Obviously some of the scenes were a bit full on and I began to worry about them and what my mum would think afterwards, I doubt many arranged marriages will come my way now.

As there wasn't the Hollywood background music to cover up flaws in dialogue and everything was very much 'real' and 'live', how difficult was it to film and how long did the whole process take?

Ken has a very strict format, which he follows; in which each scene is shot 3 or 4 times from different angles, he then is able to get what he wants by editing obviously. The process took 8 weeks and they seemed to fly by. As said before, the difficulty of the task was made easy by the surroundings and the people, so I didn’t ever think of the process as laborious or dragging, just fun.

Have you encountered any of the issues faced by Casim, in the movie, in real life?

I have dated a white girl before and had the challenging task of letting my mother know, unfortunately it wasn’t well received but it was allowed for my happiness. My girlfriend and I split up a few years back now. Also, leading the double life is something I can relate to.

How do you feel your role will bode with the Asian community?

I think my generation will be able to relate and reflect, however the older generation may find some of the intimate scenes a bit much.

Did you attend the Edinburgh film festival? How was the film received?

The Edinburgh film festival was a joyous occasion for me and my family, the red carpet, the press conference, the press, all aspects were great and will remain with me forever. The film was received well thankfully.

What are your future plans, in terms of movies? What sorts of roles are you considering?

Signed up with an agent, so if offers come in I will definitely consider them. Must concentrate on gaining experience and undergoing the required training to make the most of this massive opportunity. Roles will be considered with sound advice from me mum after this performance.