Director: Al Mackay
Cast: Hamza Jeetooa, Anjli Mohindra
Runtime: 15 mins x 3
Watch My Jihad online in the UK: BBC iPlayer
Every Sunday, we review a short film available on VOD. We call it Short Film Sunday.
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three shorts.
The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. “It’s hard to imagine how that could’ve gone worse,” Nazir joked, during a chance meeting on a bus later. “Your flies could have been undone,” Fahmida retorted.
A year since we first met the pair, our new shorts pick up one month later, as they prepare to go on their first official date. The first thing we see Nazir do? Check his trousers. It’s that attention to detail that makes My Jihad so sublime: a rom-com that follows the usual ups and downs in a fledgling relationship, it renders every moment with a care that makes the old will-they-won’t-they set-up spring off the screen with fresh life.
That extends to our two characters: Fahmida is cynical, scared of something new, after a previous relationship has left her with the kind of baggage that society would rather be stashed under the bed; Nazir, on the other hand, is as open as could be, optimistic and earnest to a fault. She has family obligations; he still lives off his parents. They make for a delightfully odd pairing: he sees simplicity in everything, while she can’t ignore the complexity of life.
The short format lends itself perfectly to their story. In keeping with the original, Shakeel Ahmed’s script presents each episode as a vignette based around, essentially, a single conversation; a restaurant meal, a talk at a wedding. Within every encounter, things ricochet smoothly between their two perspectives, as obstacles arise and are overcome all in the space of 15 minutes. But that cycle never feels obvious; thanks to the tender, sincere performances, the shorts carry the unpredictability of real people. When nuptials do occur, the bride and groom aren’t who you expect.
The supporting cast envelop our couple in a convincing community of Muslims, a setting that adds a subtle weight and novelty to their tale. Basic issues such as previous relationships or even being seen in public together are as troubling as their shared habit of over-thinking everything, while the focus is always on becoming husband and wife rather than a casual fling. Nazir’s religious beliefs, too, are as much a part of his charm as his lack of suave small-talk. And yet aside from the title – here, the spiritual quest to find a devout life partner – these topics are all handled with a matter-of-fact tone that never turns this into a story about Islam. These characters are Muslims, but they’re not defined by that fact. The only time a niqab becomes a key plot point involves a funny moment of cross-dressing.
The result is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season. Given a release only on BBC iPlayer, it’s a short and sweet romance that anyone can enjoy on their commute to work or on the sofa at home. It’s proof of the quality that the streaming service can produce – a promising indication of the talent encouraged by the Beeb, as it prepares to move BBC Three online. In a digital age, this classic rom-com isn’t just accessible: it’s unmissable.
My Jihad is available on BBC iPlayer until March 2020.
Photo: BBC / Colin Hutton