Posts Tagged ‘Adeel Akhtar’

Separate Communities

Ali and Ava

Director: Clio Barnard

Cast: Claire Rushbrook, Adeel Akhtar, Shaun Thomas, Ellora Torchia

Film Rating: 6 out of 10

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes

This film has no subtitles

The British entry for the European Film Festival is director Clio Barnard’s intimate film Ali and Ava set in an unnamed dreary Yorkshire city. Claire Rushbrook (Secrets and Lies) stars an Irish emigrant and Grandmother Ava who inadvertently falls in love with Ali, a Pakistani emigrant played by Adeel Akhtar (Victoria and Abdul, The Big Sick).

Ava is living with her youngest son Callum and his girlfriend and baby. Callum is played by rising British star Shaun Thomas, who is angry when his mother Ava brings home Ali for the first time. Both Ali and Ava come from almost closed separate communities. Ava from a white, working class Irish catholic neighbourhood and Ali from an emigrant Muslim neighbourhood. Ali is recently separated from his wife Runa played by Ellora Torchia.

Ava, on the other hand, is recently widowed from Callum’s father who she later confesses was an abusive alcoholic that used to beat her up.

Despite coming from different cultural backgrounds Ali and Ava find a tentative connection through Ali’s tenant’s daughter who Ava teaches, a young Slovakian girl with behaviour problems.

Ali was a DJ before getting married and his love of music is what makes the mutual connection with Ava although her hesitancy at getting involved is not unfounded after her son Callum finds out that she is dating someone from outside the community.

Writer and director Clio Barnard skirts over so many issues in this film and never really finds the right tone for such an intimate love story, often resorting to music as a method for replacing dialogue.

Although both Claire Rushbrook and Adeel Akhtar act really well, although there is not much to work with beyond the usual cross-cultural love story within the same town in contemporary Britain.

Issues such as abuse, domestic violence and cultural exclusion are never properly addressed and only really pinpointed in the last 40 minutes of the film. The first half of the film meanders with too much music and not enough storyline or character development.

Ali and Ava is a slightly disappointing film which could have been so much better, considering that the British are normally renowned for making really brilliant films.

Ali and Ava gets a film rating of 6 out of 10 and will have a limited appeal but does address cross cultural love and unlikely couples finding true happiness. This film will find a limited audience.

The Banquet of Infinity

Victoria & Abdul

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Julian Wadham, Simon Callow, Paul Higgins

The unlikely friendship of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, a Muslim clerk from Agra who is sent to England from Colonial India to present a special coin to her majesty is the subject of a sumptuous and shrewdly observed film by veteran director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen, Philomena).

Victoria and Abdul has to be viewed in conjunction with the 1997 John Madden film Mrs Brown also starring Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) as the grand old queen which in that film follows her widow like infatuation with the Scottish highlander John Brown played by Billy Connolly.

The British director of Florence Foster Jenkins makes a clever narrative choice in telling the story from Abdul’s perspective, as he goes on a fascinating journey into the heart of the English court with its strange pomposity and royal etiquette.

Abdul is expertly played by Indian actor Ali Fazal (Fast and Furious 7), who is handsome, devoted and downright smitten with this cantankerous monarch who sees him as a beautiful embodiment of all that is exotic about the vast subcontinent that was 19th century colonial India, a country that ironically Queen Victoria was never allowed to visit for fear of being assassinated.

Victoria, much to the horror of her conservative retinue of court staff and advisors, takes a shine to the bold and outspoken Abdul and requests that he become her munchee, her teacher on all things Indian from delicacies like mangoes to religious and cultural practices. A pertinent request considering that at the time, 19th century India was ruled by England when its rapid colonial expansion globally allowed Queen Victoria to bizarrely assume the title of Empress of India even though she had never set foot on the distant sub-continent.

As the friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim blossoms at first comically and later as a form of emotional attachment, it becomes the source of anticipated ridicule from her own son Bertie, the Prince of Wales played with suitable arrogance by Eddie Izzard as well as the British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury wonderfully played by Michael Gambon (Brideshead Revisited).

In one of the best lines of the film Lord Salisbury mentions to Queen Victoria at a gorgeous state banquet that the British Empire has annexed Zululand to which the monarch replies whatever for?

In the twilight of her exceptionally long reign and as the 19th century draws to a close, Victoria realizes that her unconventional friendship with Abdul is her last jaunt at joviality even elevating him to a senior adviser and taking him on a trip to Florence, Italy where they are both fortunate enough to meet Puccini played with panache by character actor Simon Callow (A Room with a View, Maurice).

The cross cultural appeal of Victoria and Abdul should keep international audiences interested in this previously unknown friendship between an aging British monarch and a young, handsome Indian clerk, whose precarious protection at court was only valid while the Queen remained alive.

The shocking end sequence of Victoria and Abdul is a cruel reminder of how colonialism always excluded the other even when they were desperately trying to appease their colonizer.

As a brilliantly observed piece of largely ignored historical fact which only came to light through the discovery of Abdul’s journals in 2010, Victoria and Abdul is a beautiful period film, held together by two magnificently nuanced performances by both Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, both whom deserve Oscar nominations.

Victoria and Abdul gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and will be enjoyed by audiences that cherished director Gurinder Chadha’s equally impressive Anglo-Indian drama The Viceroy’s House set during the partition of India, half a century in later.


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