Successful theatre writer-director Pravesh Kumar MBE aims for authenticity and fun in first full length romantic comedy – screening at London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) at the BFI Southbank and talks about recording “our stories…”
VERY FEW FEATURE films with British Asians at the helm get made, full stop.
So there’s a genuine sense of excitement for ‘Little English’ – bolstered when you know the writer-director behind it is Pravesh Kumar MBE.
Well-known to the arts community, Kumar is the artistic director of Rifco Theatre, the Watford-based theatre company he founded in 2000 and continues to run as artistic director.
Success in one area of the arts – Rifco has won many awards and its shows often sell out quickly – doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in another, but Kumar’s output both in theatre and more recently short comedy films (as writer-director) suggests it will be a hoot and have some important things to say.
This film is loosely based on a popular play Kumar wrote for Rifco in 2007, but has changed a lot since then for the screen.
As in some Asian families, the parents take it upon themselves to get their offspring settled. This usually means marriage and the end of parental responsibility (mentally and to varying degrees physically as well, depending on the individual family…).
In ‘Little English’, Simmy arrives from India expecting to marry the oldest son of a well-settled, sane, established British Punjabi family.
It doesn’t go to plan and she finds romance and happiness in a quite unexpected quarter and her in-laws – especially the mother is rather taken aback. It’s a romantic comedy – with a strong British South Asian Punjabi flavour.
Kumar told www.asianculturevulture.com.: “The story is set within the community which is important – because there are stories inside our communities that are are never told and we don’t talk about what goes on inside our houses.
“Very often we see people of colour from a white perspective and that is what we see, mostly, but this is very authentic.”
So, expect a few uncomfortable, funny – but very relatable ‘Asian’ moments and scenes in ‘Little English’.
Kumar has written this feature with a strong emphasis on authenticity, laughter and understanding.
“We’re just like everybody else, we’re funny, we’re eccentric, and dysfunctional like everyone else, why can’t we talk about that? We don’t talk about that enough,” he told acv.
He slightly laments the social dramas and political stories that seem to portray Asians as often conflicted, confused and ridden with angst – even if all drama is based on characters with some element of these, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
“We’re just like everybody else, but so often we are burdened by particular forms of representation about our family or being burdened by our father or our religion – it can’t be just that.
“This is about our contemporary experience, our lives as British South Asians – it simply hasn’t been recorded enough. That’s what I want to do more – talk about who we are now.”
He feels it’s important the older generation are given a voice and represented beyond simple stereotypes.
“Our parents will be gone and we haven’t recorded their uniqueness.
“In ‘Little English’ there is a very authentic Punjabi mother, when you see inside that house, you know are going inside a British Punjabi household.
“The original story comes from where I live and I’ve lived most of my life in Slough and the story is inpsired by some of the experiences of my British Punjabi family.”
Last year, Rifco made a series of short films – some with established stars such as Nitin Ganatra.
Producer Dominique Unsworth helped with those and Kumar has known her for some time.
“She is a very good friend of mine and we’ve been talking for years about taking over the world,” Kumar joked. “She runs Resource Productions and we both want to tell stories that are authentic and truly represent British South Asian voices and I wanted to make my first feature and so did she.”
The casting process was perhaps a little different with Kumar’s long experience in theatre.
“Between Dom and I, we knew everybody,” Kumar laughed.
While the main leads are rising names – Ranmeet Rauli as Simmy, and Viraj Juneja as Harry, there are other well-established actors.
Ameet Chana needs little introduction (‘Bend it like Beckham’) nor does Goldy Notay (‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’) or Madhav Sharma (more recently in the hit and Bafta-winning Channel 4 TV series, ‘We are Lady Parts’).
Kumar revealed: “Goldy was in the original play – she plays sister Mindy, the manic sister who is like a walking storm.
“Some of these like Ameet were literally in my head when I was writing it.
“We didn’t do a lot of auditions except for the leads because it was essential to for them to have chemistry.”
The film is essentially crowdfunded and produced on a micro-budget. Both Unsworth and Kumar were keen to bring new people into filmmaking.
“What I love about this film too is the diversity off screen: behind the camera we had a very culturally diverse crew and many were making their first film and there was a real togetherness and spirit of ‘Let’s do this’.”
He said that working with such a small budget presented challenges.
“You have to make compromises but sometimes it’s good when you only have 20 minutes to shoot a scene.”
Kumar said he was ably supported by his cinematographer, Leigh Alner. The music is done by well-known composer Niraj Chag.
He is extremely proud that the world premiere of this film will take place at the BFI Southbank on Friday as part of the London Indian Film Festival (June 23-July 3) Great British Asians strand.
“I feel really honoured and blessed to have my first feature being shown at the BFI Southbank,” Kumar shared with acv.
‘Little English’ – Blue Orchid London Indian Film Festival Great British Asians Gala screening, BFI Southbank, Friday, June 24 8.30pm and screening London Picturehouse Central, Thursday, June 30 6.30pm.
It is now showing as sold out…contact BFI or look for returns, etc.
BFI Southbank – here
Some tickets available at time of going to press – London Picturehouse – https://www.picturehouses.com/movie-details/000/HO00011829/little-english
The film also screens in Manchester as part of Blue Orchid Manchester Indian Film Festival at Home on Sunday, June 26 3.30pm.
Manchester Home – https://homemcr.org/film/little-english/
There are post screening Q&As for all three showings.