Menhaj Huda is best known for 2006’s Kidulthood, a gritty urban drama about a day in the life of a group of teenagers in a rough area of London. His new film, Everywhere and Nowhere, is a coming-of-age story about Ash Khan (played by James Floyd) a young British Asian who has to battle against the expectations of his family to fulfil his ambition of becoming a club DJ. With Everywhere and Nowhere in cinemas now, OTB caught up with Menhaj to talk about the film…
Tell us a bit about it the new film, it’s obviously a subject you feel strongly about..
It a project that I’ve been developing for quite a while, aimed at exposing the double life and experience of second and third generation Asians in the UK. I guess when I first started doing it I always felt that somebody else would do a film like this and I may not have to do it, but as time has gone along and certainly since 9/11 I’ve thought that the focus shifted onto the darker side of the Asian community and every single film about young Asians has shown them to be terrorists or suicide bombers or something negative. I thought it was time for me to dig this project out and to really try and get it made to try and redress the balance – just seeing young Asians portrayed as regular people.
So it’s basically a different take on the young Asian community in London?
Yeah, I think some of the subjects may be very familiar and people have said that it doesn’t seem to bring anything new but I think that’s partly because, you know, things haven’t changed that much in the community. I want to make a film which challenges the status quo, in that sense, and I hope people read between the lines of the story and see that part of it is quite subversive really, I want to show it without banging it over people’s heads. For me it was really important to create a drama and a realistic set of characters rather than a comedy and a caricature which we’ve seen a lot of in the Asian characters on screen in recent times. And I feel that by creating comedy characters everyone goes away feeling comfortable and everything’s fine, whereas actually I wanted to show that everything’s not necessarily fine! I didn’t want to overburden the story and make it too extreme – which I could have done quite easily – because I felt that would alienate a lot of our audience. I wanted the story to really resonate with everyone and feel: ‘this is relevant to my experience, it’s really like my life is being portrayed up there on screen’, but then at the same time make them question some of the choices that we make and how we seem to tow the line and get comfortable with things that are not necessarily issues that we agree with.
So have you had any feedback from the Asian community yet? How have they responded?
We had a screening where there was a whole wide range of age groups and the Grewal family were there, you know, the ones from the Channel 4 documentary, and I went up afterwards and spoke to the mother of the family and asked her what she thought. She really enjoyed the movie even though it’s not really targeted at her age group, and she told me, ‘what you’ve done here is talked about a lot of things that are very real and that are going on and I’m really glad to see that you’ve started talking about this because these are issues that the Asian community are very good at covering up.’ So that’s one side, and the other side had the younger generations going, ‘the music is amazing, the way that you’ve portrayed these characters is so true to life’, so different people take different things out of the film and in general I think that it’s something that is being embraced by the Asian community.
James Floyd (who plays Ash) gives a very good performance, very natural, he looks like an actor who could have a big future, would you agree?
I hope so, yeah! It’s always difficult to tell, you know, we’ve seen many actors from minorities give great performances who don’t go on to have the careers that we expect them to. So I’m just hoping that this launches him in to mainstream cinema and he goes on to do really well – which is something that I’ve done with other young actors in my career before, so I’m hoping that this is no different.
As you touched on before, the film has a great soundtrack – who put that together?
I knew that the film was going to have this mix of Bollywood and contemporary dance tracks – I used to be a DJ myself so I’ve got quite a good ear for the music that I want in my films as you probably saw in Kidulthood: I chose all the music in that film. I also knew that the kind of music Ash is making I’m not that familiar with, and I wanted it to be completely cutting edge and of-the-moment. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Nerm whilst going to Latitude Festival in the same car with a friend of ours, and we got talking about it and as soon as he found out what the story of the film was he was like ‘Dude that’s my life, you’ve gotta let me have a look at it’. So I got him in to have a look at the film and he was really excited and then I heard some of his music and the mixes that he was doing on Radio 1 and stuff and thought ‘this is the guy that we need’ to put together the nightclub sequences and actually he was also responsible for choosing the artists that did the remixes, so the Sukh Knights and the Engineers came by and they were absolutely spot-on choices for the mixes that we needed. I obviously had the ultimate say in deciding what I like and what I didn’t like, and luckily for me there was no clash of egos when I gave my brief to the other guys – they completely got what I was trying to do and delivered amazing track. The score itself that goes between the source tracks are scored by the Angel that did the score for Kidulthood. It was a very difficult task in the short time that we had to take such a complex sound for the film and creating a score that sat alongside it and gave it the kind of vibe that I want the whole film to have.
There’s also some good comedy moments in there – was that your way of lightening the tone a little bit?
I knew that the film itself, the main story, has dark elements to it and we have to have humour – and actually when you get a bunch of guys together there’s always humour and I wanted to make sure that there were moments of humour within the film but without taking over as a comedy. As I said, as soon as you get into comedy territory everyone goes away without thinking about what the film has really been about. But it’s always good to have those moments.
Was it an early decision to make the film so open ended?
Yeah, definitely. I wanted to give the impression he’s [Ash] has kind of found his freedom, and that’s all I wanted to say. I could have tied it up – the ending of all the other characters – but felt that it would really do it justice. If you were gonna tell everyone what happened to everyone else you’d need to add another half-an-hour to the film and I wasn’t prepared to do that, I’d rather leave it in people’s imaginations. And maybe, you know, maybe we will do another film and maybe we’ll spinit off into a TV series and we’ll find out what happened to everyone else.
Great talking to you, Menhaj. Thanks for your time.