BFI LFF 2023: In Camera (2023)

In Camera, written and directed by Naqqash Khalid is a debut satirical drama full of pain about the racism experienced by second-generation Asians in Britain.

An Asian Actor's Life

by Alexa Dalby

In Camera

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

This bold debut, is centred on Aden (a star-making performance by Nabhaan Rizwan), a struggling actor whose sense of identity crumbles more with each soulless casting he goes to. Asian actors, no matter how good, only get to audition in the film, nightmarishly, for parts as aliens or jihadis, or interchangeably en masse. Aden faces a series of challenges that make him question his desire to be accepted by a system that wasn’t built to include him: he lands a job role-playing as the dead son of a grieving mother (Josie Walker) going through therapy.

Aden’s flatmate (Rory Fleck Byrne), an exhausted doctor, is plagued with unsettling nightmares about blood, while the arrival of a new, successful flat-sharer, a confident fashion designer (Amir El-Masry), provides Aden with the role of a lifetime (but not as an actor). The new guy patronisingly assumes that he and Aden have the same “brown-skin” problems in white society.

Naqqash Khalid says: “The film is a colonial fairy tale. I knew that I wanted to cast an Irish actor; Nabhaan is Asian, Pakistani; and Amir is Egyptian. So all three actors, but also all three characters, have history with the British Empire. I was really interested in this construction of whiteness as this thing that changes over time. Whiteness is all about capitalism, and that has a currency and that changes, and Aden throughout the film kind of comes into a type of whiteness.

“I also wanted to paint a portrait of contemporary masculinity in this country. Really what I’m interested in is the performance of everyday life. I wanted Nabhaan’s and Amir’s characters to be polar opposite. So much of that character represents modern capitalism, where we feel the need to consume everything. There was a real horror to that, and I wanted horror to be associated with food throughout.

“I feel like actors are almost like sociological documents and you can see so much of our time and generation in an actor’s body. Today, there’s so much anxiety with young people and I wanted to create what I hoped would be a generational portrait. At the moment, it feels like we’re performing all of the time, whether it’s on Instagram or with our friends. We live in such a high performative time. With this film I was thinking of the resistance of that. This sounds quite abstract and academic, but these geometric abstractions slowly became the genesis of the film. I think there is a shared alienation today in society that I wanted to tap into.

“Acting and the film industry is used as a vehicle to talk about all of the things I want you to talk about such as identity, which is so present in this industry. Being an actor, you can’t separate your labour from your body. In this film, Aden can’t not be a young Asian man, so when making this film, I had to really decolonise my own mind. I learned that the camera is such a tool of colonialism. Being a director who is Asian doesn’t make me immune to reproducing whiteness.

“There’s a lot of radical politics throughout the film, whether it’s the politics of abolition, whether it’s colonialism or navigating quiet spaces. Every frame is loaded with it.”

In Camera is a BBC and BFI film.

In Camera premiered at Karlovy Vary and screened at the BFI London Film Festival on 13 and 15 October 2023.

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