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Ummahsonic Catches up with Actor and Writer, Kamal Kaan

We’re continuing our series of interviews with Kamal Kaan. He is a Bradford based actor and writer. He graduated from Cambridge University reading Architecture and has a Masters in TV Fiction writing from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has appeared in a number of BBC dramas and has written several projects for BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 3 and his work has won twice at World Stage Design.

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a British-Bangladeshi Muslim born and raised in Bradford, working as an Actor and Writer. I come from a working-class background where my father worked in textile mills and neither my mother or father never had the chance to go to school. I come from a family of 10 and was the first to go away to University. I was offered scholarships to read Architecture at Cambridge University and also an MA in TV Fiction Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Who inspires you creatively?

The thing that inspires me creatively is unearthing the beauty that is found in the everyday grit of our lives. Through the use of fiction as a writer and on stage, stories can be used to illuminate new ways and perspectives on how we live and ways to create a dialogue to delve into the deeper realms of the human heart.

What’s it like working on a BBC drama?

My work with the BBC has been in two strands, working with the most wonderful producer Charlotte Riches in the BBC Radio drama department and also working with Usman Mullan at BBC Writersroom – the department that develops new writers for the screen. There’s a certain preconception about working with large organisations like the BBC, however, my experiences with both Charlotte and Usman have been delightful, to the extent that they have become friends rather than colleagues and we have meetings over afternoon tea – which is both delicious and nutritious for the creative soul. It’s also refreshing to see other Muslims like Usman in places of power and responsibility and it is inspiring to see and work with.

How does your faith inspire you?

My faith has been integral to my being, both spiritually and artistically. My parents inspired my practice in my religion. However, it was through the arts that I felt like I found the complexity and beauty of the faith. My early interests in Islamic architecture lead me to study Architecture at University. Whilst at university, I discovered the masterpiece The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, (the Peter Avery translation – who was also a fellow at Cambridge University). This then took me in the direction of literature and reading the works of Hafiz, Rumi, Saadi inspired me to be a writer. I also practice Calligraphy and that was inspired by reading Arabic and appreciating the form of the language as visual art. The value of the arts can sometimes be overlooked in this country and within South-Asian cultures, but Islam has a great heritage and history that should be celebrated.

Kamal Kaan

What was the moment that changed your life?

The moment that changed my life was when I received a letter one morning, in a brown envelope, saying that I had been awarded a scholarship and offered an unconditional offer at Cambridge University. I come from a family of 10 and my parents were too poor to go to school in Bangladesh and I was the first from my family to go away to university. The irony is that when I told my late father that I had been offered a place, he had no idea what Cambridge University was! This made me feel quite comforted in knowing there was never any pressure from my parents or expectations from them and allowed me to take the path my heart desired, rather than what they foresaw for me.

What’s the importance of representation?

I am a keen advocate on the representation of minority voices. Being British-born and of Bangladeshi minority and a Muslim would make it seemingly impossible to have a voice. However, it only takes one voice to speak up in order to platform that voice and I believe the Arts is the best platform to do that, by reaching out to a national and international audience.

What is your proudest moment?

My proudest moment hasn’t happened yet. It is the search of that moment that drives you to never become complacent on previous success, keeping you grounded and appreciative for all the good (and bad) that comes along that journey.

What is your most memorable meal?

One of the most memorable meals that I had was on my graduation day. That afternoon, we were sat in the pristine gardens of Kings College Cambridge, my father wearing traditional shalwar kameez and my mum wearing her hijab and a blinging sari amongst a rather monochrome middle-class setting. We all had fish (and us Bangladeshis love our fish) and they ate with their hands, as they would and it was just so surreal as it was the only time my mum and dad came to visit whilst being there and I’ll always remember the look of awe in my father’s eyes and the feeling of delight in knowing that my name has been carved into the history of that place now.

What is your favourite place?

Having been born and raised in Bradford, not being biased, but it is one of the most dynamic places in the country. Because it sits on the Pennines, you get the most spectacular views of the city from the various high points. All the rows of terraced houses made in a golden sandstone colour and the mix of cultures and people and food make it a vibrant and thriving place. It also has lots of surrounding greenery and so has the perfect balance of city and country living.

Kamal Kaan

What’s your advice to other’s wanting to get into acting or writing?

Don’t do it. Hah – just joking. No, you must, there aren’t many of us out there. It’s the most difficult and uncertain profession and will require faith and perseverance (and also lots of part-time jobs to sustain you between commissions and contracts). I think it’s a burning desire to be creative that fuels the late nights and uncertainty. But once the fire of your art spreads, it becomes an incredible feeling of giving to the world a hidden part of your soul through the art that you make.

What would you say to someone who believes they can’t succeed?

There is no such thing as feeling like you can’t succeed. It cannot be measured and should never be measured or compared to other people’s success. Know within yourself that what you are doing contributes in some positive way to the world and success is not an endpoint, but a continuum.

What’s next for you?

Next, I am due to start rehearsals for a new show called This Space Is Occupied about the 1970s Situationist movement, by Bradford based theatre company Bent Architect, which will be performed site specifically in Bradford at the end of May and June. I am also working with Freedom Studios in developing and writing a new play with them for 2019. I’m also developing a new play for BBC Radio 4 and working with BBC Writersroom on a new screenplay.

Anything you would like to say to Ummahsonic’s fans?

Someone else has always said it better when it comes to saying things. This is one of my favourite quotes by Omar Khayyam:

“It’s too bad if a heart lacks fire,

and is deprived of the light

of a heart ablaze.

The day on which you are

without passionate Love

is the most wasted day of your life. “

In case you haven’t seen already, check out our film with Kamal Kaan here.

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