Oz Arshad’s new film is a refreshing picture of the trials which often accompany the quest for love among British Muslims
After a quarter of a century of people spelling my name wrong, it was explosively satisfying to watch a film where they got it right. Finding Fatimah is a British Muslim film, set in Manchester and written by Muslims, three of who are BBC writers.
Directed by Oz Arshad, Finding Fatimah is about a 30-year-old divorcee (Shahed, played by Danny Ashok) and a doctor with anger management issues (Fatimah, played by Asmara Gabrielle), who look for love online when subjects found offline didn’t make the cut. Shahed’s life is crumbling bit by bit as his business collapses, his ex-wife returns, and his chances of winning a talent show as a comedian are damaged by tabloid PR. Whereas Fatimah’s life is a vicious circle of falling for men of low fidelity.
The film does not shy away from looking at issues which commonly crop up within the Muslim marriage scene, where a significant number of marriages are arranged by families. It explores the challenge of the divorce stigma and how this affects the second search for a spouse (especially as Shahed declines to be transparent about this on his initial dates with Fatimah). Racism in Muslim spheres is also comically poked into discussion, as exemplified when Fatimah withholds from Shahed the fact that her Pakistani father would not accept a Bangladeshi, or any other kind of non-Pakistani man for his daughters. Themes of the so-called ‘tick box marriage’ pop up when Fatimah’s sister describes the state of her marriage, initiated mostly for money and status.
Courageously, the film explores Islamic masculinities during a scene where Shahed cries on his mother’s lap while reflecting on the loss of his father. The range of macho characters with vulnerabilities, and Fatimah’s higher financial status, were refreshing to watch as they challenged the stereotype of masculinity that presides not only globally, but also potently within British Muslim communities.
The film unravels to present nuanced characters, and on the whole, manages to go beyond Muslim caricatures. There were, however, some disappointments. Shahed’s divorce story centred on the ‘psycho chav’ as the ex-wife, and failed to represent the complexities around relationships and marital collapse.
The romance bordered on vomit-inducing cliché and some scenes were incredibly unrealistic, especially when many Muslim communities struggle with the idea of love and romance before marriage. Having said that, the portrayal of family life was honest – they were realistically dysfunctional, rather than idealised visions of harmony. But the film did not do justice to the difficulties of the intrusive and controlling aspects of many Muslim households, especially when a son or daughter tries to convince the parents about their choice of a spouse.
Finding Fatimah is a relevant film for our times. There were many simplicities to enjoy: there were no terrorists, no bombs, no forced marriages, no domestic abuse, no forced prayer scenes, no hijab versus hair debates. Just normal Muslims with normal problems.
The tasteful comedy, with genuine characters and an amalgamation of Asian culture with abject Britishness, makes Finding Fatimah a pleasure – but more importantly, a welcome breath of fresh air. It is a film that should have been made a decade ago, and is a welcome release to the tension the media have contributed to propagating about Muslims. With patience and practice, more films like Finding Fatimah will, inshallah, hopefully, be produced.
Finding Fatimah is out in cinemas on 21st April 2017.
Photo Credit: Finding Fatimah
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.