Naqqash Khalid’s inventive feature debut is a spiky take on navigating the British film industry as a non-white actor and trying to find your identity amid the hostile present day.
The myriad absurdities and pressures of modern life are on full display in Naqqash Khalid’s debut feature – a bold and inventive drama that centres on the experiences of Aden (Nabhaan Rizwan), a young actor trying to make it in the harsh world of film and television. Despite his striking features and obvious talent, Aden is struggling to find work, relegated to the role of a corpse on a generic police drama when we first meet him. While the show’s white lead moans to his agent about the show’s renewal meaning he can’t do the more prestigious film he was offered, having too much work isn’t a luxury Aden is afforded. He attends countless auditions for a variety of roles, standing in front of bored receptionists and disinterested casting agents, often amid a sea of other faces. In one scene, he’s lined up in what seems to be a small cupboard with other competing hopefuls. Dressed almost identically and standing in the dim light, it’s hard to not think about livestock.
Aden isn’t alone in feeling strangely dehumanised by his job. His flatmate Bo (Rory Fleck Byrne) is a junior doctor struggling with strange dreams, wrung out by a stressful job. He dreams about the building bleeding, and people screaming at him to do something. When he’s unable to, the blood coats him too, but rather than appearing shocked, he seems strangely euphoric, as though being engulfed is a relief. A newcomer to their house share is Conrad (Amir El-Masry on excellent smarmy form), a wisdom-spouting ‘lifestyle’ guru, who talks a lot but doesn’t say much. Together the three paint a deft picture of modern British masculinity – they embody the uncertainty and burnout many face in their twenties and thirties due to career pressure, but also the performative aspect of social media, curating a version of oneself that does not reflect reality.
In need of cash to make rent, Aden takes an unusual gig for a grieving couple who request he plays the role of their recently deceased son. At first it seems to be going well, and Aden experiences a brief show of tenderness that seems otherwise lacking in his solitary life. But things quickly go awry and as he bolts from the property he’s sick in the street, shaken by the sudden severing of the veil between performance and reality. It’s a genuinely disturbing moment that is sadly dismissed a little too soon, though perhaps that is just another symptom of Aden’s fixation on the grind.
Rizwan’s compelling performance undoubtedly makes In Camera what it is – with his inscrutable feline features he presents Aden as hard to read and closed-off, which aren’t exactly winning traits for an actor. But who can blame Aden, given that the industry keeps knocking him back? It’s not that he lacks talent – just that the industry is reluctant to see him as anything other than a minority. When he auditions for a role as a hijacker, the woman he’s reading lines with suggests he try an accent. When he asks her to be specific, she dismissively says “a Middle Eastern one” – Khalid’s sharply-observed script calls to task the British film industry for typecasting.
Conventionality definitely isn’t something Khalid can be accused of here. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction and forcing audiences to pay attention in order to unpack the intricacies of his complex script, there’s perhaps a little more going on than the film can necessarily nail down. Attempting to give both Bo and Conrad subplots stretches things a little thin, and a few of the film’s more fantastical scenes are difficult to decipher. But better overambitious than the opposite, and hopefully In Camera provides plenty more opportunities for Khalid and Rizwan, who so richly deserve them based on the strength of this feature.
Published 7 Jul 2023