UBC student’s short film, Imran and Alykhan brings bittersweet queer romance to Muslim youth camp

Third-year Sauder student Shakil Jessa’s short film Imran and Alykhan debuted on May 12 at this year’s Crazy8s Gala, a competitive opportunity for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work.

Crazy8s is an eight-day filmmaking challenge — three days to shoot and five days to edit — which gives 6 filmmakers out of 150 applicants the support to produce their short films.

Imran and Alykhan is the story of a teenage boy, Imran (played by Moheb Jindran), who hopelessly falls in love with another boy called Alykhan (played by Harnoor Gill) at a Muslim youth retreat.

In the beginning of the film, it is unclear both whether Alykhan is gay and if he shares Imran’s feelings. The 15 minute short film explores the uncertainties and subtleties of young Queer love forced to remain unspoken. The setting and the screenplay bring alive bittersweet memories of a childhood romance – innocent, wishful and expressed through vivid fantasies.

The film brings Muslim and South Asian characters into the spotlight, straying from the common and harmful practice of casting Queer people of colour only in side roles (if at all).

Jessa said in an interview with The Ubyssey that the film is based on his personal experience of falling in love with a boy at a Muslim youth summer camp. But because the movie was shot in Vancouver in March, the summer camp instead takes on a rain-soaked winter setting which contributes to the film’s dreamy atmosphere.

“It's about two boys who are just in a place in their lives where they are completely vulnerable and open,” said Jessa. “Especially with social media, there's so few times where you can disconnect yourself and be with someone wholeheartedly. That's why I chose the setting of a summer camp because it's a time where all of the outside world is gone.”

Jessa channels an element of nostalgia through cinematography, costuming and old-school set design reminiscent of a typical camp setting.

The film starts with a Euphoria-style party scene
The film starts with a Euphoria-style party scene Syd Wong

The film starts with a Euphoria-style party scene but smoothly transitions into a romance set in a cabin in the woods. The characters are dressed in vibrant polo shirts and button-downs that go well with the earth tones of rustic blue, green and brown that make up the background.

The first conversation between the characters takes place when Alykhan makes fun of Imran for listening to music on an iPod Shuffle — a symbol for how Imran soundtracks his daydreams rather than living them. The iPod also adds to the vintage feel of the movie.

“I didn't want to set it in a certain time period … which is why we didn't show phones because I wanted it to feel timeless,” said Jessa.

The movie does not shy away from wholesomeness. A sequence of the protagonists sneaking out in the middle of the night is followed by a beautifully shot scene of lanterns in the dark, which creates a paradise or getaway with no rules that the protagonists have to abide by.

However, their environment does not allow them to express their feelings openly: the two boys are reprimanded by the instructor for sneaking out together.

Beyond the iPod, Jessa uses the soundtrack to separate Imran’s daydreams from the world that surrounds the character. In the title track, “to the parents of antisocial teenagers,” by UBC student and artist Krtvi, the lucid, free-flowing lyricism accompanied by strong vocals makes the daydream sequences feel realistic and youthful.

The two daydreaming sequences do get a bit too much for a short film by taking up a lot of the screen time without taking the narrative forward. But, at the same time, Imran can only convey his wish for Alykhan to reciprocate his love through the daydream sequences since their environment represses more explicit affection.

Although Imran’s affection is ultimately forced to remain in the closet, Jessa’s story is not: the film, which was screened alongside five other remarkable short films, earned a huge applause from the audience.

Information about the film’s screening at other festivals can be found on its Instagram page.