Following the success of his radio plays and ‘Til Jihad Do Us Part’ broadcast on writer/director Shai Hussain presents his newest venture.
‘Three Shades of Brown’ is a new comedy web series about a ‘rude boy’, a ‘freshie’ and a ‘coconut’, who move into a flat together in London. Here be a full house of highly conflicting personalities that can only spell doom.
It stars some of the best of upcoming Brit-Asian talent: Omar Khan (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani), Muzz Khan (Four Lions) and Navinder Bhatti (the upcoming Amar Akbar & Tony).
Writer Shai Hussain on ‘Three Shades of Brown’ and more…
Tell us about your background.
In terms of culture, my parents are Indian and Muslim. I was born over here. My passport says I'm British, my tastes are pretty Indian and my name says I'm Muslim. I wouldn't say I'm completely one or the other, but there are definite influences from all three.
I first fell in love with the arts whilst pursuing a Maths degree in Manchester, due to unforgettable support from the Contact Theatre, which was next door. After finishing, I went travelling where I discovered my love for writing that led me to doing an MA Screenwriting at the Northern Film School in Leeds.
One of my feature film projects got to the finals of a competition called "The Big Pitch" in 2008 and attracted the attention of Gordon Anderson, the director of the first series of ‘The Inbetweeners’.
Simple to say, there have been some real highlights in my career, but what I've always wanted to do is write about the British-Asian world I know - without the melodrama, but equally without the sugar-coating.
TV and Film is still my ultimate goal to aim for as they're the most widely viewed formats, but until that day comes, I'm hoping ‘Three Shades of Brown’ will convince the gatekeepers that there is an audience for this kind of product.
How did you come up with this storyline?
The characters in my comedic stories are generally stereotypes. During my Screenwriting MA in 2005, I developed a sitcom set at the University of Manchester about eight very different students living in a halls of residence: a geek, a girl-next-door, a rude boy, a slut, a rugger-bugger, a goth, a hippy and a daddy's girl.
For comedy, I feel the best characters are those that are fully exaggerated and the best way to break down stereotypes is by exposing them for just how silly they are. For ‘Three Shades Of Brown’, I felt it was due time that this was done for the British-Asian youth of today, and to also show that not all Asian guys are the same.
I feel that due support for ethnic stories is still scarce for the British TV and film industries. But films like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The Best Marigold Hotel’ show that there is real strength in the brown pound.
It was through sheer exhaustion from rejection after rejection that, after slowly deliberating giving up writing altogether, I decided that if nobody else was going to give me a chance to prove myself, I'd create that chance myself.
So, I went through all of my concepts and decided that ‘Three Shades of Brown’ would be the one I could most likely to justice on a tiny budget.
How did you loop in the cast?
Muzz Khan, who plays the rude boy Nas, I met over a creative forum website years ago. I was writing ‘Three Shades’ when I saw Muzz in Ishy Din's amazing theatre piece ‘Snookered’, and I instantly felt that I'd found my Nas.
Similarly for Ravi, it was writing for Omar Khan's character in the Zing TV soap ‘Cloud 9’, that I knew that Omar could sleepwalk the role. Thankfully, they both accepted to do it.
Harry was trickier to cast as due to time logistics, the actor I primarily had in mind didn't work out. I put the word out on different forums that we were looking to audition the part, and luck came in the form of Navinder Bhatti. Rez Kempton, who worked with Navinder on the upcoming film ‘Amar, Akbar & Tony’ put us in touch, he auditioned, and he was perfect. I can't imagine anyone else in the role now.
Family members did offer to help me fund the film, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this off my own back - at least for the first one. No sponsors, no investors, no producers - at least for the first series, just so I can set the tone and the world that I always saw it.
It isn't so much criticism I can't handle - it's the wait for approval. However, my executive producer, Pulkit Datta (based in New York) has always been at hand to give constructive criticism without destroying my vision, and huge kudos to him for his patience and his eye for detail.
Everyone bar the sound recordist (who almost halved his wages) was paid expenses only for this, and some of the supporting roles even waived their expenses! I truly had a great, talented, patient and passionate team on board for this. Looking back now, I seriously can't wait to start production on series 2
The goal has always been to show that there's an audience for this kind of show.
The world of the webseries is still growing in the UK, but it’s massive in the US at the moment. With the right product and the right niche, the web can do wonders, and Three Shades of Brown hopes to repeat the success of Humza Arshad's ‘Diary of a Bad Man’.
What has your role been in the production?
In terms of what I did for the project, I produced, directed, financed, edited, wrote music for, location scouted, marketed, designed, took care of PR, and about to go into distribution. As a no-budget webseries, I tried to take care of what I can do personally as I hate asking people to work for free. I owe so many people so much for their advice and assistance; and, obviously thanks to the press… such as the Asian Express, who have given me such a great platform to get the word out there. I promised myself I wouldn't cry. (sob)
Why did you decide to webcast?
I had little luck with producers. One producer felt the flatmates-sitcom had been done to death. Another said the characters were very believable and well-written but couldn't warm to them. Another said they loved the upbeat dialogue but it didn't feel the right kind of project for them. Another said that she loved it, but had another similar sitcom in production.
It was the final feedback that was the last straw really. I'd had so many experiences of concepts I believed turned down time and time again, just to see a similar idea pitched by a seasoned writer to get made two years down the line, that I was determined not to see it happen again.
What have you learnt from making ‘Three Shades of Brown’?
Whilst on my MA, I wrote an action thriller called ‘Eye for an Eye’ where two brothers fought each other on the other side of terrorism - a kind of British remake of ‘Deewar’. Then ‘Britz’ came out.
During the same time, I wrote ‘Small World’, my freshers-set sitcom set in Manchester. It was the script that bagged me an agent five years later, yet nobody would touch it.
Then, when my agent started sending it out, we learnt that there was a little show called ‘Fresh Meat’ about to come out that was too similar.
Then I thought I'd hit the jackpot with NBC Universal and my radio sitcom ‘Generasians’. After a year of development and getting through to the final round of commissioning with BBC Radio 4 twice, ‘Citizen Khan’ came out and it was history.
I couldn't allow the same thing to happen to ‘Three Shades of Brown’.
I hope the readers of Asian Express enjoy it.
When Harry tells his best friend Ravi that he's moving to the capital to start a new job, Ravi advises him to move in with his close family friend, Nas. However, when Ravi's girlfriend dumps him, he accompanies Harry to London and looks to stay on the sofa until (he expects) his ex will eventually realise her mistake.
Nas, unimpressed with both Harry’s straight-laced personality and Ravi’s unexpected length of intrusion, soon plans to throw them both out. Unfortunately for him, an unexpected twist in events may have him begging for them to stay.