An interview from 2008. Michael Monkhouse encounters Dishad Husain. Tipped by Channel 4 as an upcoming director, Husain is the award-winning creator of the short comedy films 'Holly-Bolly' and 'Viva Liberty!'
One of the most exciting directors around is Dishad Husain. I first heard of him through Mixt Nutz, a wondrously silly and creative sketch combo that regularly hits Edinburgh, flaunts its funniness at Canary Wharf, and often garners rave reviews for its antics on YouTube
But when I talk to Dishad, he insists his ultimate aim is to make films. Films to host Nutzy regulars and work serious issues into the laughter. Films to follow his own (award-laden) shorts Viva Liberty! and Holly-Bolly.
In case you haven't seen Holly-Bolly, I can tell you it's twelve minutes of hilarity, satire and righteous indignation. The films follows youthful film-makers Obi and Dil, determined to create an arthouse masterpiece but coming up against the same lack of funding... that is until they meet Big Al, a towering but dodgy dealer who'll support them as long as they make his film: an appalling, Cockney-gangster-meets-Bollywood mess. And that means shady hold-ups, racial stereotype debates, Martial Arts, and even a big song 'n' dance number.
It's a film Dishad had to make, because, in the midst of a London physics degree, he did lots of prize-winning student telly; then took a characteristically strong show to the National Film and TV School to study directing; and worked his way up through low-budget telly dogsbody positions to assistant producer... before biting the bullet: funding Holly-Bolly himself. In two intense years: filming, working to support said filming, and using the stop-start situation "to review and assess". Restraints only fuelled his energy and focused his budget, just as the use of Digibeta and S16mm - "more a financial decision than an artistic one" - fits the eclectic nature of the film. "In the end, I wanted to say when I retire - if the film was a failure, at least I gave it my best shot..." he says.
It's rather more than that. The direction and acting demonstrate a sharpness that's perfect for this kind of humour. And while Dishad won't namecheck influences - that'd be asking for trouble - he stresses he doesn't just look to cinema for inspiration. He'll nab actors from internet groups like Shooting People; or bands of mates because they're "good at pulling ridiculous faces." Jeff Rudom's Big Al is an effective foil to Anthony Oseyemi's Obi and Riz Meedin's Dil - notably when he recalls 'a time before porn, when even I had morals'. Visual and verbal qualities apart, it's Dishad's directing that triumphs: dialogues overlap scenes so as to fuse characters and ideas... To maintain a swiftness of pace... And to expose the fickleness of the film industry. Case in point: Voiceover of the dingbat director who turned Dil and Obi down but now offers them funding... while they're at an award ceremony. Because if there's a laugh behind every sneer, there's a sneer behind every laugh.
It's no surprise that the movie's fuelled by personal experience: a dodgy music producer; anger at Asian stereotypes in film. In a marvelous coup, it not only maintains mass movie appeal, but also challenges the stereotypes within said industry. And insists that ethnic themes be treated with innovation, style and humour: "I hope never to make a film about arranged marriages, wife beating, male chauvinists or terrorists..." I'm reminded of one of Ken Loach's weaker moments, A Fond Kiss. But also Omid Djalili's sparkling skits on East-West relations. And the success of Holly-Bolly itself...
The film wowed international festivals; earned Best Short (Indian Film Festival, Los Angeles), Best Film (UK Shallow Shorts Festival), best screenplay (Leicester Film Festival); and brought Dishad to the attention of a Channel 4 commissioner who "liked it so much she put me forward for a new directors scheme called Coming Up."
Hence Viva Liberty!. Or, more accurately, one weekend to come up with a synopsis: "I revisited a short idea I had about a character called Woody Khan who got wrongly put in Guantanamo Bay. I talked to my old writing friend Alex McDonald who said that would be a great basis to work with and changed the name to Woody Ali."
The film shows a hapless Asian innocent on a plane, apprehended as a terrorist by the Yankees. Dishad explains: "A lot of Muslim men are in my situation where they feel extreme paranoia, especially on airplanes. I work as a TV camera man for nine to five and get particular, special attention by US customs every time I head to the States. I spend more and more time trying to look less threatening since 9/11 and a lot of that made the Channel 4 people laugh."
And all the time, Dishad was sticking to their rule of only four locations/actors/days: "The budget was small but the team was awesome - the same leads from Holly-Bolly and some North Americans to play the roles of the US military people..."
Did it work? Immoderately. "We went to LA to premiere and it all went down well - I was worried Americans would take it the wrong way but we got a great reception. It's doing the desi film festivals in the States and just played at Toronto" - followed by Bite the Mango (Bradford), Rio de Janeiro, Karachi, Raindance (London)...
And now Husain is working on another comedy feature, Little India, aka 'Indian Wrestling Film'. "It's about a wrestler and out-of-work actor trying to get out of their London South Asian ghetto... It's going to be interesting!"
This continual intersecting of racial issues and movie minority is interesting indeed. But what strikes me most about Dishad isn't his sense of humour, his directing/plot-building abilities, or even his contagious enthusiasm; it's his determination. It's the fact he puts his money where his mouth is. The fact that where most people can't be arsed - where many give up before they've started and others think a couple of comedy classes and a bed with a Beeb executive is all you need - Dishad Husain is up there and doing it.
Interesting? More like inspiring!