Writer-director Shamim Sarif has two movies out on DVD today. Both films draw on her own experiences and heritage, both are based on her own novels, and both star Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth as young women struggling to overcome family and social prejudice, and their own fears, after they fall in love.
The two films are very different in tone and setting, however. I Can’t Think Straight, Sarif’s directing debut, is a romantic comedy set in present-day London and Jordan, while The World Unseen is a period drama that takes place in 1950s South Africa.
In I Can’t Think Straight, Ray plays Tala, a flighty young Jordanian of Palestinian origin who has a history of jilting her fiancés. Why the cold feet? Well, the viewer will have a pretty good inkling by the time she encounters, in London, Sheth’s Leyla, a shy British-Indian Muslim with lukewarm feelings about her own boyfriend. The rapport between the two is instant and slowly blossoms into love, but they must both find the confidence to come out to their families before they stand a chance of happiness.
In The World Unseen the two women play members of South Africa’s Indian community at a time when Indians occupied an uneasy position between white and black races, and between privilege and oppression. Sheth plays the free-spirited, trouser-wearing Amina, who runs a lively café in 1952 Cape Town and Ray a reticent wife and mother. Once again, significant glances are exchanged when the women first meet, and, again, they have to kick against prejudice on the way to self-fulfillment.
Sarif’s brace of films have their flaws. The writing and direction in I Can’t Think Straight is often clumsy and there are wobbly performances from some of the supporting cast. At times, too, Sarif strains a little too hard after humour. Sarif’s direction is much more assured in The World Unseen, and the film’s more serious mood much more consistently maintained. But Ray (best known for her appearance in Deepa Mehta’s Water) and Sheth (who appeared alongside Albert Brooks in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World) have engaging screen presences and real chemistry in both movies.
Both films are released on DVD on 4th May.