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Actress Shermin Hassan on playing the lead role in new British Asian film Arifa

British Asian film Arifa revolves around the title character as she negotiates her way through various challenges, including a mysterious boyfriend and her broke bootlegger father.

Talented newcomer Shermin Hassan wonderfully plays the lead role in a movie that goes on release this week.

Eastern Eye caught up with Shermin to discuss acting, Arifa and movies.

Tell us, what first connected you to acting?
I don’t have a distinct memory of what connected me to acting, but do remember being seven or eight years old and telling my mother I wanted to be an actress. It was very definite and I’ve believed it was my calling ever since. I’ve been moved by stories and the ability to connect through our experiences, fiction or non-fiction.

What was the experience of playing the title character in Arifa?
I’d graduated from drama school a few months ago when I found out I had been given the lead role in the film. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed that my first professional film debut was in Arifa. I had a feeling it would go far and still do. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and fell in love with how the film was shot. It is a very intimate art form and quite different from theatre. It’s made me hold on to the feeling of acting in films ever since.

Tell us about the film and the role you play?
The film is mainly about a young woman grappling with herself and others. She wants to find love and be loved, but is constantly giving her time and trust in people who can’t give it back to her. She goes on a journey of self-discovery and towards the end, the subtle changes she makes are the biggest mountains she climbs. I play Arifa and found her really easy to connect to. I’m not sure if that’s because (director) Sadia (Saeed) is a great writer (she deffo is) or that we were just very similar in character.

Could you relate to any aspects of the character?
Of course. Who wouldn’t? I had some male friends who saw Arifa when it played at the East End Film Festival and even they said she was such a relatable character. I think everyone has felt angry, lost, happy and hurt at some point in their lives, probably on a daily basis actually. (Laughs) Also, she makes people laugh which I’ve been told is my strong suit.

What is your favourite moment in the movie?
That’s a hard one, but it would have to be the evening where Arifa and her dad have a heart-to-heart and she breaks down while she sees her once strong father figure lose a part of himself. The lighting was also beautifully done and the writing was epic. I was very nervous about filming this scene and it was quite emotionally demanding, but I remember going to a quiet place and just being with myself. Tuning in to how I felt and drawing from my personal experiences along with imagining myself in the situation.

Who do you think will connect to this film?
Everyone. Especially those who like a story with no special effects or CGI. Just a simple, but moving story that connects many, whatever experiences you have gone through or haven’t gone through.

What would be your dream role?
Well, it would probably be something quite harrowing like a young woman who had to flee her home in order to survive. I love survival films. I think you learn so much from them even by just watching.

Who is your acting hero?
My grandad. He’s really funny and can act so well, but doesn’t even know it.

What kind of films do you enjoy?
My favourite film of all time is either Man On Fire or I Origins. I think films with some form of sacrifice are so amazing to watch. God, I sound so melancholy, but I’m actually a really happy-go-lucky person.

Why should we watch Arifa?
(Laughs) Because it has me in it. No, only joking. I think anyone who watches Arifa will be taken on a truthful journey either with themselves or with the character. There are a lot of nuances in the film, which I believe can reach anyone who watches it, so please do.