Slam – the Australian movie that has broken the mould
Centring the lives of a Muslim family, the film tackles migrant identity against an intense backdrop of distrust and Islamophobia. “You could see Slam as a critique of Australian society, but you only critic things that concern you that you want to be part of,” Sen-Gupta tells MiNDFOOD. The film follows Ricky Naser (played by Adam Bakri), a young Australian who is living the Australian Dream.
“He moved to the inner west and married a white Anglo Australian woman and has this very nice life, he changes his name from Tariq to Ricky – he’s assimilated,” explains Sen-Gupta. Then one night Ricky gets a phone call from his distraught mother – his sister, Ameena (Danielle Horvat), who we see performing at a Slam poetry event, hasn’t come home. “That’s the beginning of our story,” says Sen-Gupta.
On the night Ameena goes missing an Australian air force fighter is shot down over Syria and the pilot is captured by the IS causing a frenzy of distrust towards the Muslim community. When Ameena can’t be found it is suggested in the media that she is a ‘home grown radical’ who has gone to Syria to join the Islamic State. Despite his innocence, Ricky must atone for the sins of all those deemed responsible and, for the sake of his family, denounce his sister. “It’s the story of an assimilated ‘other’ who believes that he can live away from his own and suddenly realises that he cannot, he’s drawn back to rediscover himself.”
Sen-Gupta was inspired to write Slam after going to a Slam Poetry night at Bankstown Art Centre. “At one point this this young Muslim woman wearing a veil, a hijab, came on stage and she was this outburst of really strong verse and really powerful ideas,” he recalls. “We have this impression that Muslim women wearing the hijab are oppressed and they live in this very patriarchal society and here’s this young woman with such a presence, such powerful words. I was really struck by that image as a filmmaker.”
Slam poetry is an inertial part of the film. “Slam poetry is confronting because you have someone standing in front of you speaking to you right into your face. The film is like that, it tells you straight, it stands there and tells you straight into your face in a very poetic way,” Sen-Gupta explains. With Islamophbia rife in Australia, Sen-Gupta wanted to shine a light on the migrant experience. “I’m using a Muslim family as my protagonist because at this moment Muslims are the most oppressed migrants in the world,” he says. Although Slam explores a number of powerful themes, at its heart it’s about migrant identity.
It’s a theme that is familiar to Sen-Gupta. Brought up by migrant parents displaced by the 1947 partition of India, he grew up being told that he was an outsider. When he won a scholarship to the prestigious film school, La Fémis, in Paris his experience of assimilation intensified. “I went to Paris [aged 25] and I decided to turn into a Frenchman. I decided to espouse every value, I spoke the language well and I was in an elite school,” Sen- Gupta recalls. “I was in my mid thirties when I suddenly realised that that’s not going to happen, I can be a French national, I can be whatever I want but I’ll never be French ever. It’s like a big blow to you and I think that the inspiration to this film comes from the experience that I had.”
Sen-Gupta, who now lives in Sydney with his wife and nine-year-old daughter, says that the film will challenge audiences. “I think Australians are used to seeing a certain kind of cinema which they term as ‘Australian cinema’,” he says. “I’m hoping that Slam will lead to Australians accepting that Australia is actually a very diverse country and there are diverse voices here that are also saying things and that that’s part of the Australian society today – it’s the modern Australia.”
Slam premieres at the Sydney Film Festival on June 15.