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Ae Fond Kiss

Production Crew

Director: Ken Loach

Producer: Rebecca O'Brien

Screenplay by: Paul Laverty

Music by: George Fenton

Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd

Editor: Jonathan Morris

Production Design: Martin Johnson

Cast

Casim: Atta Yaqub

Roisin: Eva Birthistle

Introduction

Ae Fond Kiss, written by Robert Burns to the lover he must relinquish, is a song of heartfelt regret, more resigned than railing against the society that forces them to part. It sets a brooding keynote to what intially appears the very essence of light-hearted romance. Yet the ease with which Casim and Roisin come together is in stark contrast to the difficulties their developing situation causes.

A love story, as well as being naturally compelling, was a way of highlighting conflicts within Casim's family and arising from Roisin's background. "It's interesting how parents want their kids to marry someone who's like themselves. It goes very deep," observes Laverty, who was interested in the process of people "shaking off the beliefs of their parents. It's a serious decision, and it has massive consequences."

It's also a film that deals with identity, not just personal identity, but that unwittingly imposed by family and community.

Laverty is fascinated by "the way we may call a child a 'Muslim child' or a 'Catholic child' without any qualms, without considering what the child himself will make of the world."

Short Synopsis

Casim is a second generation Pakistani from Glasgow. Working as a DJ in Glasgow's coolest venues, Casim dreams of buying his own club. His parents Tariq and Sadia are devout Muslims and plan for him to marry his beautiful cousin Jasmine, who is soon to arrive in the UK. Plans go awry when Casim meets Roisin. A teacher at his sister Tahara's school, Roisin is different from any girl he's ever met. She's gorgeous, intelligent and definitely possesses a mind of her own. She and Casim soon fall deeply in love. But Casim knows all too well that, even if he wasn't due to marry, his parents would never accept a �goree' � a white girl. As a Catholic, Roisin finds that her own community isn't very supportive either. When their relationship is discovered, the repercussions of the scandal reach far and wide and sparks fly as cultures clash and personalities collide.

Production Crew Notes

Director » Ken Loach

He's becoming something of a well-kent face round the Glasgow area, yet Loach never intended My Name Is Joe, Sweet Sixteen and Ae Fond Kiss as a comprehensive trilogy or, indeed, a defining take on modern Scottish experience. "They are, I hope, three representative pictures, three different stories, of life in the West of Scotland."

Tariq Khan, unlike his filmic predecessors, is not at the heel-end of his society. "He's quite entrepreneurial. He's someone from peasant stock who has managed to make money with his shop, yet he's not middle-class. The middle-classes would tend to look down on someone like Tariq." Material comfort brings a degree of security, even solace, to Tariq, but ultimately, what's at stake here is something less tangible than money but far further reaching. "It's a film about how people define themselves."

Loach and Laverty mulled over the basic premise of a love story set against the backdrop of the Glasgow-Asian community, working through a series of draft scripts till the shape of the film began to emerge.

"But it's the people who bring it to life. When you have a character in a script, there's always a space within that character for the real, three-dimensional person to fit in. Sometimes they bring that character towards what they are themselves."

As the cast began to line up, he was tickled by the fact that, while Casim and his siblings are immediately perceived as the outsiders, it is Irish-born Eva who is in fact the immigrant.

The Glasgow-Asian community was, admits Loach, "a world I didn't know much about. I had to listen and ask a lot of questions, to gain a sense of other people and find the common denominators.

You find that the fundamental politics of families are the same underneath - the difference is in how they are expressed. To get this right, you have to listen, and keep asking how things should be said.

My hope is that people will enjoy the complexity of not knowing what to wish for as the outcome. I hope they'll care about what happens to the characters and enjoy chewing it all over."

Producer: Rebecca O'Brien

"It never gets any easier, even after successes like Sweet Sixteen," says Rebecca O'Brien on the subject of financing this, her seventh feature film collaboration with Ken Loach.

The film was pre-sold to 'our usual partners' , namely EMC in Germany, Diaphana in France, Bianca and BIM in Italy, Tornasol in Spain, Cineart in Belgium and Holland and Film Coopi in Switzerland, who function as distributors and as co-producers. "As long as we can raise the money, it makes sense to make the film with our regular European partners. The relationships go back over a number of films so there's a great deal of trust. We describe the film and how we'll do it and that's enough, which is a real luxury."

The

Cast Notes

"We wanted a family that was Pakistani but also Glaswegian, both in how they spoke and in their terms of reference. Some actors can do a passable imitation but it's not authentic unless you've actually been born there," says Ken Loach.

Kathleen Crawford, of Big Fish Casting, began the search through friends of friends at the Bombay Cinema. "Then we posted flyers around Pollokshields, and started visiting Asian bookstores and music shops, cash and carry's, mosques, community centres, while all the time trying to be sensitive to cultural attitudes."

What proved to be a real challenge was drawing female actors from a community that considers acting a less than appropriate occupation for a woman. Shamshad Akhtar, best known in Scotland as Meena in the TV comedy series Still Game, came to acting relatively late in life. Nonetheless, when she appeared in her first project, a documentary, her ex-husband told her family in Pakistan that she had become a model. It was, she says, a bid to make it sound more disreputable and shocking. Professional actor Shabana Bakhsh tells prospective employers that she cannot contemplate "kissing parts, or anything in which I have to wear short skirts. There are no other Muslim actresses on TV and this is the reason why."

This problem reared its head on set, when Shabana had to negotiate her way out of a short skirt for a clubbing scene. "But we reached a compromise. Everyone was very understanding."

The auditions themselves were deceptively casual. "Ken would get two people together, set up a scene, give them lots of details and wait to see them drop those ideas in," says Crawford, "He's very decisive and always seems to know what he wants."

Many of the people they met along the way appear in the film as extras. "Ken is always taking advice; be it about the way someone would say something or about a particular area of Pakistan. Everyone's contribution is valued."

Atta Yaqub » Casim Khan

For the role of Casim, the idolised only son who breaks cultural ranks, Loach went for an unknown. Atta Yaqub, a part-time model and recently qualified post-grad student in Information Management, hadn't acted so much as a line before, but had all the attributes of a romantic lead.

Effortlessly attractive and charming, he bowled over the rest of the cast. Crucially, he had the cultural credentials to match Laverty's script. Like Casim, he lives two lives. "The one within the family, and the one outside it." At home, Casim is the dutiful son, speaking Punjabi with his parents, accepting their choice for his forthcoming arranged marriage, bowing to the weight of tradition. Outside, he sheds this identity, speaks English, works as a DJ and, with potentially disastrous consequences, falls in love. It's a dual existence lived by many young Asian men, caught between respect, and love, for their family and cultural heritage, and a desire to shape their own future.

Atta, like Casim, feels the contradiction of wishing, on the one hand, to be left to his own devices, and on the other, appreciating the support network such a background as his provides. "I was with a white girl, for four years, and even then, I'd be walking along the street with her, holding hands, and if I saw a man with a beard, I'd drop her hand straightaway. I couldn't get it out of my head, the idea that the community was watching me. But then, after September 11th, it seemed there was more emphasis suddenly, when people asked were you a Muslim. I've got a mixture of Asian and white friends, and I found that I became more comfortable with my Asian friends. They understood what was happening."

Eva Birthistle » Roisin Hanlon

The character of Roisin had originally been conceived as a young Scottish woman but Eva, who hails from Dublin, was the one who stole the show. In her presence, Atta came to life.

"Ken casts as close to the character as he can, and I think Roisin and I are very alike. We're both pretty independent and down-to-earth. We don't take any bullshit." Just as Laverty didn't want a symmetrical story, with a Catholic family as counterweight to the Muslim Khan family, he didn't want a happy-ever-after heroine.

"She's not going to jump through hoops to be with him. She doesn't make easy promises." Interestingly, Eva and Roisin would characterise themselves as modern, secular individuals yet both, at times, have felt their Catholic heritage drag its anchor. In Eva's case, it was attending a Protestant school and realising how dislocated she felt. For Roisin, it's an issue that threatens to foreclose her career. "All Roisin's actions, they're what I would do, though sometimes I'd tell Ken, 'I wouldn't say it like that.' Ken likes that; likes you to speak in your own voice, and trust what comes out on the day."

An established actress in her own right, Eva found Loach's methodology very conducive, relishing the way the story unfolded layer by layer. "I was genuinely horrified when Casim's family situation was revealed. It made me aware, as he was trying to explain to Roisin, that I've no idea what that must be like. Part of me thinks, come on, it's 2003, get with it. But I don't have that pressure; I don't really know what it's like. Like Roisin, I felt very angry, and just...bewildered by it."

Shabana Bakhsh » Tahara Khan

Because of her role in the soap opera River City, Shabana is already a well-known face in Scotland. However, she found that her acting experience served as an obstacle to be overcome when working on a Loach film. "I was the only person who went home and learnt their lines. No-one else did. And when lines kept changing and people kept doing their own thing, I was thrown. "Now I understand why he does what he does; it all makes sense to me. He captures a spontaneity you couldn't get any other way. But it just seemed so chaotic before."

Tahara is the youngest member of the Khan family. Despite being only ten years younger than her sister Rukhsana, she appears to be of a different generation entirely. Her sights are set on education and freedom, not marriage and duty. For Shabana, it is a story that is very close to home. "I said things as Tahara I've never said to my own family. My father didn't actually tear up my letter (of acceptance to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) but he may as well have."

"So it was a cathartic scene, if very emotionally draining. I cried through five takes, and afterwards too." As a teenager, she attended Scottish Youth Theatre and then applied to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD). "I went to the RSAMD audition by myself. My mum wasn't keen; she was worried about how it would look to the community. In the end, she said it was alright, so long as I became a drama teacher rather than an actress."

Shamshad Akhtar » Sadia Khan

Shamshad has every reason to despise tradition. At the age of 14, she was forced into a deeply unhappy and often violent marriage and removed to a cold and alien city - Glasgow. "All day he worked on the buses, and I didn't have anyone to talk to. I had to learn English from the telly, looking up the words in a dictionary." But she doesn't reject her heritage wholesale. Community, for instance, is something it does well. "The shop, which was part of your own community. It was like my family when my husband wasn't there. There were always people there, sitting in chairs, always something to eat."

"Meanwhile, there was old Mrs Lamont, who'd lived in the same close for 80 years. No-one showed up for her funeral." Before her marriage, Shamshad had taken drama classes in school, and after she left her marriage, she took up drama again, appearing in a handful of documentaries before landing the role of foul-tempered Meena in the BBC Comedy Unit's Still Game. "When I heard that Ken wanted to see me, I was thrilled! I was jumping about!

Ahmad Riaz » Tariq Khan

"I was eight years old when Partition was declared, and my family migrated to Pakistan. It took seven days; it should have taken three hours. I remember it vividly," says Riaz, a Chartered Accountant and radio personality. He immigrated to Scotland during the early 1960s. Despite being a fluent English speaker and qualified in law, he - like Tariq - was dispatched to work on the buses. There is, he says, a "remarkable similarity between my life and that of Tariq. I'm amazed at the relevance of the script."

But there are many differences too. For Riaz, cultural diversity equals strength. "You can be any colour you want, but if you want a rainbow, you need all colours" is one of his favourite sayings. "Tariq is too rigid. He's like many of the old guards of the Asian community: behind the times. They need to adapt themselves because there's a generation gap of crisis proportions opening up." Young people like Casim "want to respect traditional values but also feel the pressures of modern life. It needs to be explained to them what not to brush aside. Things like the goodness of togetherness, the virtues of family life. The West places too much importance on individual life. I say, respect individuality within families."

Ghizala Avan » Rukhsana Khan

"It was the happiest moment of my life, getting this part," says Ghizala, who plays Casim's older sister Rukhsana, and is in reality a trained psychologist with an awesome battery of qualifications to her credit.

"In my studies, I've looked at identity, particularly in relation to "in-groups" and "out-groups". "Out-groups" will do whatever they can to make themselves better. Just look at the Asian community. Everyone strives either to be highly qualified, or works hard to make money."

In contrast to Tahara, Rukhsana is quite traditionalist. "She does what's expected of her. She dresses modestly though she doesn't wear headscarves, and her beliefs are Islam-centred. When she sees Amar, she is happy to be chaperoned." She also has a ruthless streak. "As far as she's concerned, Casim's relationship with Roisin just has too many casualties." While family matters to Ghizala too, she is very different from Rukhsana in other ways. "I don't buy into the arranged marriage idea. Suddenly to spend your whole life with a stranger? No way. I like my life. Wouldn't change it for anything less than what I have." The power dynamics in the Khan family are also alien to her. "They favour the men. The son is idolised. In reality, me and my brother have a very equal relationship. "I found it weird, having to sit back and let them make the decisions." Despite their differences, Ghizala understands Rukhsana and always knew the moment something wasn't right. "At the end of one particular scene, she just gets up and leaves. But I said to Ken that I didn't think she would do that; it's too abrupt and cold. So the second time, she stayed where she was, which felt much more natural to me. He's a great director; he listens to everyone."