Saturday, July 2

After Love Director Aleem Khan: “I walked through Mecca and prayed that I wasn’t gay” | Films

SUBWAYAry, the central character in Aleem Khan’s debut film After Love, is a white English woman who met her Pakistani husband as a teenager in the London suburb where they both lived. After getting married, they moved to the Kent coast. Maria converted to Islam, began to wear traditional clothing, learned to cook curry from scratch and to speak Punjabi.

It doesn’t take a lot of detective work to understand where Khan was inspired – his mother is a white English woman who met her Pakistani husband as a teenager in the London suburb where they both lived. After marrying, they moved to the Kent coast; He converted to Islam, began to wear traditional clothing, learned to cook curry from scratch, and to speak Punjabi.

Until now, precisely a recreation of the life of Khan’s own parents. Khan raided his wardrobe for costumes and his home for Islamic art to wear as costumes. But the actual plot of After Love is not autobiographical. After the death of her husband, the fictional Mary discovers that he has a secret girlfriend and son in Calais. Mary befriends and enters the other woman’s job, who doesn’t realize that her new cleaner is her lover’s widow. “I took my real mother and put her in a fictional setting and in danger. I found that really interesting, ”says Khan.

We talked in a cafe near his home in London. Khan, who was nominated for the Bafta in 2015 for his short film Three BrothersHe is neatly groomed and dressed in black, and there is a deliberate self-assurance when he speaks. He says he arranged for his mother to meet Joanna Scanlan, the actress who plays Mary, so that she could teach him how to make saag paneer. Her mother also brought bags of clothes so they could go out together. “It was very important that Joanna understood the importance of this character to me and the importance of the story. Joanna could live in the costume, go out into the world, wear the headscarf and see how people treat you differently, because they do. “

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We often see Mary pray in the film, and Khan says it was crucial for him to show a practicing Muslim “that he was comfortable with that part of his identity.” “Rarely do we get to see the full internal spectrum of a Muslim character at the center of a story,” he says. Without that, “we cannot have the progress or visibility that we deserve or need.”

However, After Love has less to do with faith than pain, loss, love, and identity. “It’s a deeply political movie for me, but the politics in the movie is pretty quiet,” says Khan. “It feels like my whole life is in this movie, even though the story is not a biography of my own life.”

Khan says his childhood and adolescence were dominated by confusion about his identity: “I grew up in two cultures, and the feeling that I never fully belonged anywhere operated on a fairly cellular level within me.” Khan was also struggling with his sexuality. “I always knew I was gay,” he says, “but I was deeply buried because I carried a lot of shame about it. I just wanted to fit in and I was in denial. “

At 16, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca. “I walked around the Kaaba and when you do that, your first prayer is for yourself,” he says. “My prayer was not to be gay.” In college, he borrowed a VHS of My Beautiful Laundrette. “I was terrified because I thought the librarian would know I was gay. I was so scared that someone would find out. I remember taking him to my room and literally seeing him with a blanket on the television. He had never seen anything like that. It was about seeing something that I first connected with. That was a very powerful experience. “

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For Khan, the turning point came in college, when he began to accept his own sexuality and lose faith in his religion. “I was grappling with how to reconcile myself between homosexuals and Muslims,” ​​he recalls, “and it was only later that I realized that identities are not independent or one-dimensional, but multiple and intersecting.” Her crisis coincided with something similar that was happening to her mother. “Things happen in families when children grow up” is all he will say about it.

“There was something about this emotional junction that had always stuck with me,” he adds. “The question of what remains of yourself when you change yourself and revolve so much around another person. When that person leaves or dies, how do we begin to recalibrate and regain our sense of identity? “

Khan consciously explored these issues while working on the script; one of them is the painful story of the death of his six-month-old sister, Shereena, when he was four years old. She grew up keeping her sister’s stuffed animal in the bottom drawer of her desk. “I don’t really remember anything about her,” she says, “but growing up I always had the feeling that someone was missing.”

Khan says he digitized old home movies from VHS tapes and had a wall of photos of his family through the years taped to the wall next to his desk, some of which had Shereena present. “I always thought I remembered the day those photos were taken, but I can’t be sure if it was just my subconscious trying to create attachments through the remaining physical pieces of it. I felt like I had lost a sister and it hadn’t affected me, but it had. Making this movie allowed that latent trauma to find a way out and a purpose. “

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After Love features a scene in which Mary visits the grave of her husband and the son she lost years before. However, the feeling is that despite such a tragedy and the betrayal of her husband’s double life, she will persevere. Despite all the pain that death and betrayal may have inflicted, life will go on. “The deception is enormous, but it does not deny or take away love. The world does not catch fire. Life is much messier. You go ahead and recalibrate so you can live with it. “

After Love premieres on June 4.

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