-by David J. Lieto (The Squeeg)
Normally, I cover the goings-on of a little town called Las Vegas. Every so often, however, I come across a subject that deserves special attention.
Shades of Ray is a new comedy by director/writer Jaffar Mahmood that is set to hit the festivals this season. Jaffar, a graduate of the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC, has been a friend for some time now, and when I was presented with the opportunity to read his screenplay, I jumped at it.
The story revolves around Ray Rehman, the son of a Pakistani Father and Caucasian Mother. His father, played by Brian George, wants his son to marry a Pakistani woman, but Ray has already asked for the hand of his Caucasian girlfriend. Although she hasn’t given him an answer yet, Ray is fairly certain his Father’s wishes are not going to be met. That is, until his Father and Mother separate and the former shows up on his doorstep.
In order to cheer up his father, Ray agrees to meet with the Pakistani woman his Father has spoken of, Sana. Because she is of mixed decent, like Ray, they hit it off immediately. According to Jaffar, “although he [Ray] didn’t want to have feelings for her [Sana], he can’t deny having a connection with her.” The only problem is that his girlfriend/fiancé, Noel, still wants him. So now Ray is not only trying to reunite his parents, but he’s also contending with the two women in his life.
The film stars some of this year’s new television talent. Zachary Levi, who plays Ray, is the star of the new NBC series Chuck (Premiering Monday, 9/24, at 8pm on NBC). He is joined by Bonnie Somerville, of ABC’s Cashmere Mafia, and Sarah Shahi, from NBC’s Life. Also, as mentioned above, Brian George - remembered for playing Babu Bhatt on Seinfeld - co-Stars along with the Emmy Award-winning Kathy Baker from Picket Fences.
Shades Of Ray is far from being a typical romantic comedy. It’s loosely based on events in Jaffar’s life. Jaffar and the Ray character share the same heritage. Jaffar’s father, a doctor in New Jersey, hails from Pakistan and, like Ray, his Mother is Caucasian. The experience of such a background was the motivating factor behind writing the script.
“There’s been several films that analyze the relationship between two people of different ethnicities - Jungle Fever, for one,” says Jaffar, “But there’s so few American movies, if any… [that examine] what’s it’s like for the product or offspring of two ethnicities coming together - the kid - and how that effects him and the way he sees himself. Shades of Ray is my way of exploring that issue.”
While trying to raise money for the film, Jaffar had been informed by a handful of executives at production companies in Los Angeles that he’d have a much easier time getting his family comedy made if he changed the ethnicity of the main character to being half latino or black. “Those are proven minority markets” is what he was told. In response, Jaffar says, “Maybe we can add South Asian to that mix if Pakistanis and Muslims weren’t only portrayed as three things in American film: the terrorist, the cab driver, or the convenience store owner. Ray is a kid from New Jersey who has conflicting pressure from his parents on who he should marry. He’s struggling to find success at work, struggling to make his parents proud, struggling to make himself happy. These are problems that anyone from any background with any religion can relate to.” Only time will tell if Jaffar is right.
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