Finding Fatimah: fresh British comedy

A heart-warming and family-friendly comedy is what’s on offer in Oz Arshad’s directorial debut, Finding Fatimah. The writer and director, Arshad, pulled the film together on a small budget but has produced an immensely watchable romantic comedy with laughs from start to finish. Set in Manchester’s British-Asian community the film addresses some of the challenging culture clashes that young British Muslims face. The feature is set for release on April 21st in cinemas across the UK.

A hapless Shahid, played by Danny Ashock, is attempting to find love online in the wake of his divorce. Finding Fatimah opens with his video profile on SingleMuslim.com and it’s an effective way of creating some real empathy for Shahid early on. The website continues to be used as a device as the young divorcee lurches from strange proposition to disapproving rejection and back before ultimately and eponymously finding Fatimah.

In an attempt to explain away the strange events befalling him in his search for a partner Shahid is told by his friend Nav- “this is post-Brexit Britain… it’s cool” and that explanation is a good analogy for the ambience that the rest of the film creates. It gently ribs modern Britain and internet dating as well as the difficult cultural overlaps that young British Muslims face. Finding Fatimah feels fresh and current.

Asmara Gabrielle plays the titular Fatimah, caught between a sympathetic and endearing Shahid and her father who wants her to marry a young MP-in-waiting with all the social skills of an anvil.

There are one or two slightly rougher edges elsewhere in the casting but at the films core Gabrielle and Ashock put in strong performances and carry off a refreshingly cliché-free romance. There’s also an amusing cameo from Dave Spikey as a self-proclaimed business guru with a social media obsession.

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In some respects Finding Fatimah feels like quite an important film. Seeing young British Muslims at the centre of a film’s plot is still relatively rare in the grand scheme of things. 2002’s Bend it Like Beckham is now an iconic film with a focus on British-Asian communities and an important cohesive message, it came at a time when stories about Britain’s Asian communities were finding their way into cinema, other examples include Anita and Me (2002) and East is East (1999) but how many films since have presented a similar offering?

Try thinking of a romantic comedy, widely viewed in the UK, where the lead wasn’t white. In relative terms there aren’t a lot. Finding Fatimah is the sort of accomplished film that helps to redress this balance and remind us of the importance of escaping white-washed cinema.

Ashock’s performance has echoes of Simon Pegg…

Despite a small budget, in film-making terms, Finding Fatimah hangs together seamlessly in terms of production value, it’s well edited and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. Some films with similar budgets find that sparse funding negatively impacts their aesthetic, but that’s not the case here.

A couple of sequences in which Shahid performs stand-up comedy feel less funny than the rest of the script and that is grating initially. However doing stand-up within a film is notoriously difficult (the one prominent exception being Robert De Niro in King of Comedy,) and these sequences offer more in the way of glances into Shahid’s character than they do in terms of laughs, which is slightly paradoxical but not necessarily a bad thing.

Finding Fatimah has its flaws, the stand-up comedy scenes are the most immediately obvious but the film’s conclusion could also be stronger, however on balance Finding Fatimah is quite simply great fun. Ashock’s performance has echoes of Simon Pegg, the central characters are endearing, interesting and funny, and the script’s undulating humour is fresh and appealing. As a directorial debut for Arshad, who also wrote Finding Fatimah, it’s a triumph.

By George Storr

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