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Riz Ahmed wants to make more Brit films like ‘City of Tiny Lights’

Riz Ahmed wants to make more Brit films like ‘City of Tiny Lights’

Star talks of ‘untold Asian stories’ and young talent show huge promise as Reiss Kershi talks about his debut…

WHILE much of the attention will be rightly focused on stars Riz Ahmed and Billie Piper in today’s release of ‘City of Tiny Lights’, the role of a trio of youngsters shouldn’t be overlooked either.

In some ways, they steal the film.

Reiss Kershi as the young Riz (Tommy Akhtar); Hannah Rae as the young Billie Piper (Shelley) and Antonio Aakeel – as the young ‘Lovely’, with James Floyd playing the adult character, are sublime and mature (in performance) beyond their tender years and fragile professional experience.

The first two, Hussain and Rae, are absolutely pivotal and give the movie an essential roundedness that is hard not to be moved by. But before Hussain tells us how he came to be involved and perform so admirably, there are other elements we need to put up front.

Firstly, well done to all for producing such a movie – Riz as Tommy Akhtar, is the central character and the story hangs centrally on his shoulders.

Not for a long time have we had a British Asian character in such a lead role in a feature film – where his ethnicity is not the thing in itself but incidental (in terms of the plot).

Ahmed, who is at his mercurial best in ‘City of Tiny Lights’ (‘COTL’), presented a case to which more filmmakers must attune themselves to, if not now, then sooner rather than later, please.

“I just want to make loads of films that reflect the sort of London or Britain that I know.

“We don’t see it on screen or in TV, and I don’t want to bang on about it, but I am quite passionate about this – there are so many Asian stories sitting there that are untold and there is so much Asian talent that we are not tapping into.

“I was so excited by the idea, why can’t we do that classic noir detective film,” he told an audience at a British Film Institute (BFI) talk where he appeared alongside director Pete Travis, Piper and moderator and film critic, Danny Leigh, last month.

Billie Piper said she saw ‘COTL’ essentially as a love film between her character and Riz’s (Tommy Akhtar).

“I really love her, she’s a really normal chick, I really felt it (the character).”

Ahmed added: “‘COTL’ has real warmth and soul and it went from being a thriller to a film about ghosts and disconnections and failing families and relationships that might have been.”

Travis revealed that the casting of the young characters had taken six months and initially he wasn’t sure he was going to use much of them.

But as an audience member stated during the Q&A, they are very good and give the film another dimension – to which the panel agreed.

Reiss Kershi (pictured right) got the part of young Tommy after more than half a dozen auditions.

It was his first serious film role and there was a lot of practice and rehearsals beforehand.

He said he was able to meet Ahmed and the other young actors and revealed he fed off the energy of more experienced actors.

“When it came to filming, it didn’t seem like I was saying any lines, I’d been rehearsing them so much, they just came out,” he told about his natural facility in front of the camera.

He has a degree in Media Production from Bournemouth University and writes as well, but has definitely got the acting bug now and wants to do more.
Unlike in some Asian households his family is very supportive. His mother is stand-up comedian Sajeela Kershi, who we saw in ‘Immigrant Diaries’ at 2014 Alchemy.

“I really would not be here doing any of this without her – she has been the catalyst and took me to the first audition and encouraged me,” Reiss told

Main picture: Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed) and Young Tommy Akhtar (left) with young Lovely (Antonio Aakeel)

‘City of Tiny Lights’ is out from today in the UK

City of Tiny Lights review – we saw it during the London Film Festival in October and perhaps were a tad harsh…see the film and tell us…

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture