By: ASJAD NAZIR
BRITISH Asian stand-up comedy is thriving with multiple shows happening on a weekly basis, but it all started with pioneers like Jeff Mirza.
The legendary funny man laid the foundation for many fabulous talents, and today he balances making audiences laugh on the live circuit with a thriving acting career. His forthcoming films include romantic comedy What’s Love Got To Do With It? which sees him star alongside a strong ensemble cast that includes Lily James, Shazad Latif and Emma Thompson. The actor’s other films include action-comedy Polite Society, and science-fiction drama Birchhanger Green.
Eastern Eye caught up with the great British comedy great to speak about his successful move to acting, new films, and how starring alongside Shabana Azmi got him a stamp of approval from a sceptical uncle.
What takes priority for you today, acting, or stand-up comedy?
They are both mutually symbiotic in a way, with one helping the other. I am doing less comedy than I used to. You have to remember that I used to do, like 40 shows a month, so have done a lot of stand-up and a lot of driving because of it. I know this and neighbouring countries very well. Acting is easier in one respect but takes more time. I enjoy them both.
Your acting career is going great guns. How much are you enjoying creating these totally different characters?
Everyone has this psyche and residue of experiences, so you just tap into them. Crazy uncle? I can do that! My dad was like this. Like I sang a qawwali in a movie once, so recalled the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. So, I use all these experiences in the parts.
You’ve delivered a great performance in soon to be released film What’s Love Got To Do With It? What was the experience of working on it?
I got a call and was asked to do a read through. When I got there, I thought this part is right up my street. I recognise this character. What added to the excitement was that the legends (producer-writer) Jemima Khan and (director) Shekhar Kapur were involved. I had loved his previous movies. Then I got the call after the audition, which is what every actor waits for. It was just such a great experience working in the film, with greats like Emma Thompson, who is super humble, despite being so super-talented.
How much have the positive reviews of the film meant for you and the team?
I’m particularly thrilled for Jemima, because this movie is her baby. She’s put so much into it. So, it’s wonderful seeing her get such good vibes, positive feedback, and great reviews. She has been determined to get the Asian community on board with this film. Traditionally we have been vilified or have been portrayed as certain types of negative stereotypes. This is not like that and is an uplifting movie. It’s a romantic comedy, and there’s no one saving anybody. (Laughs) Everyone is alive!
What was the experience of acting with powerhouse actress Shabana Azmi like, in What’s Love Got To Do With It?
I remember watching her movies on VHS back in the day. She is a big name and an icon. She is Shabana Azmi. One of my sceptical uncles always thought I was no more than a joker, wasting time on my comedy and acting. That same guy contacted me to say how proud he was, purely because I was working with Shabana Azmi. (He was also impressed that Jemima Khan was involved). Our community wants you to be a doctor, but then gives you a stamp of approval when working with an icon like Shabana-jee, who is absolutely brilliant.
My favourite moment in the movie is your scene with the wedding arranger. What was yours?
(Laughs) There was a little bit of improvisation and masala added into that scene by the actors. That is because Jemima and Shekhar gave us space to do that, which is so lovely of them. That was probably my favourite moment as well. But this film is filled with great moments, including emotional scenes audiences have loved, and just some wonderful laugh out loud scenes. This film takes you on that rollercoaster ride.
What can we expect from the forthcoming film Polite Society?
That is a completely different genre of movie. That is like a Bruce Lee and Crouching Tiger kung fu type movie, but with our (British Asian) people in it. It has a great storyline, with old style good versus evil.
I saw a video of you doing a stand-up gig in Iceland recently. What was happening there?
That was just an impromptu gig. I was actually there filming for an HBO detective series. It’s a nice part. I thought it would be interesting to do a gig there and learned some Icelandic. It’s good when you go to a foreign country, and make an audience feel that you’ve done something for them. Not an old routine, you would do in London.
What else do you have on the way?
I’ve got a science fiction movie coming out later on in the year called Birchhanger Green, which is a much more serious genre completely. I’ve done a Bollywood movie as well called Super Woman. Poonam Dhillon is in it. (Laughs) I’m playing Southall’s greatest sex therapist, who is quick to offer up a blue pill.
What’s the secret to great comedy?
It’s all about timing.
What’s Love Got To Do With It? is in cinemas next Friday (24)
ANOTHER ANURAG DUD
THE fact that Anurag Kashyap is overrated was once again illustrated by his latest movie Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat being another huge disappointment. Like his previous efforts, this self-indulgent looking film didn’t deliver because of the writer/director’s poor storytelling ability. The musical romance received largely negative reviews and was a complete washout at cinemas. Exciting newcomer Alaya F deserved better.
YUVAN’S UK DEBUT
BRITISH audiences will finally get to see the brilliance of Indian music maestro Yuvan Shankar Raja at the OVO Arena in London on April 7. The youngest son of legendary music icon Ilaiyaraaja has successfully composed super-hit film songs, predominantly in Tamil, since he was a teenager and won multiple awards. The big arena concert featuring world class singers will be another landmark moment in the 43-year-old’s remarkable journey and adds more momentum to the live Tamil music scene in the UK.
KANGANA CRAZY CLAIMS CONTINUE
KANGANA RANAUT added to her countless ludicrous social media posts by levelling unhinged accusations against a Bollywood celebrity couple recently and accusing them of spying on her. She didn’t name the couple, but dropped enough hints that most people, including the media, knew who she was speaking about. In the past I thought the actress was being deliberately controversial to get publicity, but then as her outbursts became increasingly silly, I became convinced she is mentally unwell. This latest post makes me believe that even more. This behaviour hasn’t helped professionally because her movies keep crashing at the box office.
NICE NEW BOOK TO RELAX WITH
RESIDENT Eastern Eye columnist Mita Mistry has quickly followed up her successful first book How to Understand and Deal with Social Anxiety, with the newly published All You Need Is Rest. Her beautifully written second book about the restorative power of rest, relaxation and sleep is another helpful guide, which makes a real difference. She explained, “I was inspired to write this book because life returned to ‘normal’ last year at what seemed like 100mph. There is just so much going on in the world and in our lives that people are exhausted, burned out and tired, so we all just need a little bit more rest and I’ve about written easy ways to do just that.”
OMINOUS SIGNS FOR RANVEER
I RECENTLY wrote about Ranveer Singh’s career death spiral with three huge disasters in a row and how it wouldn’t be a good sign if his next film Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani was postponed from its April 28 release. That is exactly what has happened with the romantic comedy being pushed back to July 28 to avoid a clash with the hotly anticipated historical Ponniyin Selvan: Part Two. When a major movie books a release date first and then runs away from a clash, it is never a good look. That combined with the film’s producer/ director Karan Johar not being well-liked by many, isn’t a good sign for an actor in desperate need of a hit.
GRAMMY WOES FOR ANOUSHKA
WITH two nominations, for Best Global Music Album and Best Global Music Performance, I was hoping that Anoushka Shankar could finally win that all elusive Grammy Award. Sadly, the superb sitarist went away empty handed again at this year’s ceremony and now has nine nominations without a win. She has a long way to go before catching up to the unluckiest artist at the Grammys, and that interestingly is Indian-origin conductor Zubin Mehta, who has a staggering 18 nominations without a win. Other popular artists ahead of her in terms of nominations without a win include Snoop Dogg (17), Brian McKnight (16) and Björk (16). Her not winning a Grammy doesn’t take away from how utterly brilliant the music icon and her masterpiece nominated album is.
UNSTOPPABLE SUMBUL HAS WORLD AT HER FEET
SHE may have been evicted before the finale, but the real winner of the recently concluded reality TV show Bigg Boss 16 is Sumbul Touqueer Khan. The young actress saw her already strong fan base skyrocket and showed there was a lot more to her than being an accomplished actress. With raw talent, relatability and youth on her side, the rising star has the world at her feet and can go interstellar if she makes the right choices.
She shouldn’t make the foolish mistake of previous participants of the popular show by resigning herself to just appearing in music videos and other reality shows but should be brave enough to go after big roles in films and web serials. If the 19-year-old gets the right projects, she will be unstoppable.
THE ART OF BELONGING
A GREAT looking exhibition that deserves attention is Divided Selves: Legacies, Memories, Belonging, at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry, which runs from next Saturday (18) to September 24.
The free exhibition explores community, belonging and togetherness during a time of unrest, through the work of 26 different artists. This includes Iftikhar Dadi and Nalini Malani’s acclaimed Partition inspired mixed media artwork, Bloodlines. Other artists with works on display include Aziz Hazara, Lubaina Himid, Sofia Karim and Hetain Patel. www.theherbert.org