The experience of the Pakistani diaspora in the west is a common theme that runs through a lot of Riz Ahmed’s work as an actor, writer and rap artist.
And with his new TV series with BBC titled Englistan, we see him try to push the envelope a bit more.
Ahmed says: “Englistan just means England in Urdu or Hindi. But it also communicates something, which is this idea of re-purposing the flag, stretching the flag so it’s big enough to embrace all of us.”
“I think that’s part of what I’d like to do with my work, to contribute to this idea of stretching the idea of Britishness and of Asianness. There’s a Zadie Smith quote I always go back to, ‘All I want to do with my work is to take words like black, British or woman and stretch them so they’re big enough so I can live in them comfortably.’ And I think that’s what we’re all engaged in, taking these labels we’ve all inherited, trying to stretch these necklaces we’ve been handed down and wear round our necks.”
In the nine-part Englistan, we’ll follow three generations of a British-Pakistani family as they navigate shifting circumstances and pursue their dreams over 40 years.
“It just occurred to me, you just haven’t seen the last 30 or 40 years of British history from the perspective of a brown immigrant family,” says Ahmed. “There’s a similar percentage of the American population that are Italian-American as the British population is British-Asian. And if you think how central the Italian-American story has been in popular culture, especially cinema, and you look at the near complete absence of that in British film and TV, it’s frustrating.”
Englistan is being produced by BBC Studios Drama London in association with Left Handed Films for BBC Two.