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 Touch of Pink

The starting point for Touch of Pink began with a little conundrum about my mother…

The power of Hollywood films to penetrate the everyday lives and dreams of Americans is a common theme of, well, Hollywood Films. But, of course, people from all over the world are susceptible to Hollywood’s charms, even people who rarely figure as the audience of Hollywood’s imagination. My mother, I believe, was one such woman.

When she was barely in her 20s, my mother travelled from Colonial East Africa to London, ostensibly to take a secretarial course. A few months later, she suddenly left the course and went back home, immediately accepting a marriage proposal from my father on her return. Not a hugely puzzling story, you might think. But my mother was from a poor, uneducated Muslim family. That journey to London to take a secretarial course is so out of keeping with the rest of her life: it might as well have been a trip to go golfing on the moon. I have never been able to fathom what got her to London, never been able find out why she came back so hurriedly. The answers to those questions remain unshared. But they’ve always haunted me.

So I invented a what and why for myself. My mum and I share a love of old Hollywood films. My family came to Canada as refugees in the early ’70s and my parents immediately took on several menial jobs to keep us going. “Quality time” with my mother was rare, limited to days when I was home sick and she would take time off work to look after me. Those were very special moments. The two of us tucked into the sofa under a warm blanket, slurping our Campbell’s Chicken with Stars, watching whatever old movie happened to be on TV that afternoon. Her face would soften on those snowy afternoons and she would tell me about the first time she had watched those films, back home in Dar-es-Salaam.

The movies she loved most were the old romantic comedies. Her favourite was That Touch of Mink: Cary Grant starring as a gleaming, handsome millionaire and Doris Day a poor, aspiring secretary whom he falls in love with and marries. I imagined that my mother went to London all those years ago to become a secretary and marry her own Cary Grant. But the world wouldn’t allow her to have her Hollywood ending.

Years later I myself moved to London, from Toronto. (To find my own Cary Grant?) Often, while walking the streets of London, I felt as if I was retracing her footsteps. And so I started to write a script about the two of us, and about our relationship with the Spirit of Cary Grant, who has in so many ways happily inflected (and in some ways spuriously infected) both of our lives.

In the early drafts there was a flashback scene set in a dance hall scene to which a young Nuru (based on my mum) has gone, nervously, in her hand-made frock. Once there, she feels spurned and rejected and rushes back home to her bedsit, never having had her dance with a rich and handsome stranger. And then, soon after, she goes back to East Africa, forsaking the dreams that brought her to London in the first place.

When I first started writing Touch of Pink, my boyfriend Peter was working at the Photographer’s Gallery in London. He had just curated an exhibition by George Zimbel and I came along to the private view. One particular image, Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx immediately caught my imagination. It was a documentary photograph taken in the 1950s: a handsome young man and a group of women checking each other out on the edge of a dance floor. There was something about this photograph that seemed to share a connective tissue with the story I was trying to tell.

I think Hollywood is very present in Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx: the handsome young man posing, the girls behind him dressed in their Saturday night allure, willing him to choose them for the next dance but feigning indifference. Everyone looking and aware of being looked at, the manufactured nonchalance…. The ersatz glamour is an underfed yet vivid reminder of its source: the movies. (Zimbel, by the way, also took that amazing series of Marilyn Monroe from the location of The Seven Year Itch, with her skirt billowing gloriously toward the heavens.) But there’s a toughness in the Irish Dance Hall photograph, a sexuality and desire not mediated by happily-ever-after which would have frightened someone like my mum, whose knowledge of the West was formed by the sweetened romance of Hollywood films.

I bought a postcard of the photo and kept it on my bulletin board as I wrote.

The years passed and the rewrites continued and eventually I dropped the flashback. (But I made good and sure that Nuru got her dance.) The postcard, however, remained thumbtacked just over my head. The spirit of the image continued to inspire me, just as my mother’s story continued to inspirit Touch of Pink.

Christmas 2002, and Peter and I are visiting my family in Toronto from London. I get a call from Sienna Films, the Canadian producers of Touch of Pink, a script I’ve now been working on for over eleven years, and that we’ve been trying to finance for a good four of those years. Sienna want to take us out for a meal. Over lunch, they tell me that we’re finally green-lit! We’ve managed to confirm a measly sum of money which will allow us to (maybe just) make the movie. After much clinking of glasses and many ‘how-the-*!#*-are-we going-to-do-this,’ we finish our meal and leave the restaurant.

Suddenly, I feel something swift and sudden, like a spider has dropped onto my shoulder. Gazing at me from the gallery next to the restaurant is George Zimbel’s photograph: the image that I’ve been staring at, almost daily, for over eleven years. I’m not a superstitious man but sometimes, when the right hook is used, I can be snagged and reeled in just as if I were one of Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends....

George Zimbel’s evocative photograph now hangs in front of me in my study, as I type this. What else was there for me to do?

 

A romantic comedy featuring a clash of cultures, values and sexuality. Alim (Jimi Mistry, The Guru), a South Asian-Canadian living in London, is so caught up in the romance of old movies that he thinks he's living with the spirit of Cary Grant (Kyle MacLachlan). But life with his male lover (Kristen Holden-Ried) begins to unravel when his mother arrives to find Alim a girlfriend and convince him to return to Canada. Once home, Alim must choose between his fantasy life with Cary and the earthier pleasures of real life. Feature debut for writer/director Ian Iqbal Rashid.