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‘Signature Move’ – Third culture comes into focus in BFI Flare closing gala film

‘Signature Move’ – Third culture comes into focus in BFI Flare closing gala film

When you have parents who are from a different country and different culture, you may see a whole world differently…

WHAT do you do if you are from a traditional south Asian background and you discover your daughter prefers girls and has no intentions of settling down with a man?

Essentially, this is the question that posed itself to ‘Parveen’ in ‘Signature Move’, the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Flare Festival (March 16-26) closing gala film last night. Flare highlights the best of ‘queer’ cinema globally.

‘Parveen’ played by the iconic India star Shabana Azmi (pictured top right in the film) – who 20 years ago reprised the role of a woman who falls in love with another woman in Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ – represents one third of a key emotional triangle at the centre of this film.

Signature Move’ is a tender, warm-hearted film that explores cultural issues with the complexity and adroitness they deserve.

Parveen’s daughter ‘Zaynab’, played by co-writer and lead actor of the film, Fawzia Mirza (pictured far right in left picture), is smart, funny, and has a very warm and loving relationship with her mother.

But friends they are not, as the film markedly points out.

A scene from Signature Move with Alma (Sari Sanchez) and Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza)'

A successful lawyer, with her own house, and an independent streak, not just in the fields of desire and pleasure, Zaynab is a product of her environment – a contemporary Chicago, but with strong South Asian influences.

Much of the story takes place in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods.

It’s no great surprise to see love cross the cultural and ethnic boundaries, but is only more complicated (to society) because this relationship happens to be about two women.

Meet Alma – a bookshop owner, who happens to be Hispanic, and is a little wild and very bohemian and a women-eater. But this time when she meets and falls for Zaynab, things get complicated.

Very much about ‘third culture’ kids – those who have parents from another country and culture – but born in the West and a mish-mash of many things, ‘Signature Move’ wears its cultural politics lightly.

And that is a good thing.

What we get is two characters falling in love in a conventional, modern way – they drink, dance and end up in bed and realise their connections are more than just physical.

Both comprehend mother tongues at home, Urdu (Zaynab) and Spanish (Alma) and have complex relationships with their now single moms.

Alma’s is an ex-pro wrestler and long-divorced from her father – but they share almost everything, while Zaynab’s is still coming to terms with the sudden death of her husband and having to move in with her daughter because she can’t be on her own. Azmi is very good as the traditional mother who nevertheless adapts to most things in the alien West and speaks English, even though most of the time she thinks and talks in Urdu.

The wrestling angle plays into the title, every wrestler has a ‘signature move’ and one of Zaynab’s clients (Jayde/Audrey Francis) is also a woman pro ex-wrestler who cannot pay cash but offers her free additional advice on love and life.

Perhaps to begin with the film lacks dramatic tension and has a soap-like quality to it; in the background, Parveen is a Pakistani TV soap addict.

What is impressive, is the way Mirza and co-writer Lisa Donato have brought together many different cultural strands and made them work through engaging, realistic and believable characters – and without getting bogged down in issues and resolutions – indeed there isn’t one (at least not on screen).

Director Jennifer Reeder (middle in top left picture) in the introduction to the film before its international premiere screening, told the audience that she did not ‘direct Shabanaji’ but took instructions from the veteran and Mirza is a bundle of energy and wisecracks.

Both wondered if they could match the antics on the stage in the pre-amble with the film itself – the short and blunt answer is no – with Mirza doing sit-ups at one point, Reeder hamming it up and shaking her ‘booty’ and the moderator joking about adult toys…

It was, after all, the final film of the 10-day Flare Festival and everyone was in party mood. More seriously, Mirza is one to watch… as an actor/performer/writer and we need more films about and by folks who live in ‘Third Cultures’ or between the spaces and margins. (Sailesh Ram)

ACV rating:*** (out of five)


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Written by Asian Culture Vulture