Blue Mist: Muslim masculinity, shisha lounges, and the dream of journalism
Set amidst the shisha lounges of North West London, Blue Mist unveils the compelling tale of an aspiring journalist who defies the media’s portrayal of South Asian Muslim men.
The title Blue Mist alludes to a popular shisha pipe flavour at Chunkyz, the shisha bar where three men convene for casual smoke-filled conversations.
Currently gracing the Royal Court Theatre in London till November 18th, 2023, the stellar cast featuring Salman Akhtar (Asif), Omar Bynon (Jihad), and Arian Nik (Rashid), together with the direction of Royal Court Associate Director Milli Bhatia, brings playwright Mohamed-Zain Dada’s debut play to life.
"Blue Mist effectively presents an authentic portrayal of contemporary Muslim masculinity, drawing readers into a first-hand experience. The narrative thoughtfully explores subjects such as radical prejudice, religious intolerance, the intricacies of modern dating apps, and social class dynamics in present-day Britain"
Rashid works as a baggage handler at Heathrow. He’s been in a chaste relationship with the same girl since they were 15, and he aspires to open a gym catering to middle-aged female clients.
Jihad is determined to pursue his college education and fulfil his dream of becoming a journalist. Yet, he grapples with significant challenges stemming from the pervasive impact of Western hegemony. Meanwhile, Asif serves as the Assistant Manager at a car rental company, residing with his mother and younger brother.
At Chunkyz, the gathering place for Jihad, Rashid, and Asif, it transcends the mere identity of a shisha lounge. It serves as their clandestine confessional, a cradle of mirth, and a crucible where new prospects take shape.
For the trio, it holds, special significance as a vital social sanctuary for those who abstain from alcohol. In the tumultuous landscape of their twenties, Rashid, Jihad, and Asif grapple with the universal trials of existence – relationships, sustenance, shelter, and livelihood.
Yet, these tribulations carry a distinct religious hue. Notably, their mosque steadfastly refrains from broadcasting televised boxing matches, even when blurring out the “haram” ring girls.
Moreover, Asif’s quest for a life partner, to share in the preparation of traditional dishes (e.g., Roti) through a Muslim dating site, encounters a frosty reception in an encounter with a Jordanian Lawyer.
While serving as a sanctuary for Rashid, Asif, and Jihad, the play also eloquently illuminates the critical scrutiny cast upon shisha languages. In the play, the local authorities label it as a seedbed for division and radicalisation, pushing for its closure under dubious health concerns.
Aspiring journalist Jihad is on a mission to reclaim the narrative. Victorious in a competition to craft his documentary, he embarks on a journey to amplify the voice of his community while dismantling prevailing stereotypes that saturate the media.
As Jihad readies himself for the documentary, commissioned by a Western media powerhouse (known as Ajami Media in the play), he grapples with an inescapable dilemma – juggling the demand for riveting anecdotes from a tumultuous past while striving to craft revelations that will mesmerize the discerning viewers of Ajami Media.
In his relentless pursuit, Jihad descends into ethical grey areas, clandestinely recording confidential conversations. The storyline inexorably veers into darker territory, exposing the narrative’s inherent limitations. Jihad’s inner turmoil gradually unfurls, culminating in a climax by the play’s end.
Throughout the play, playwright Dada masterfully weaves this narrative with a profusion of verbal and physical energy, featuring dream sequences enveloped in a tangible blue mist and thought-provoking dialogues with the media company’s editors, portrayed by the same actors who bring Rashid and Asif to life.
Particularly noteworthy, the play ingeniously subverts the timeless Walt Disney Mary Poppins song into a thought-provoking twist: “A spoonful of Muslim helps the news go down, albeit in the most disconcerting of ways!”
A standout moment in the play is when Jihad boldly declares that his generation must break free from the victimhood narrative.
Jihad compellingly argues that complex issues like grooming gangs can’t be pinned solely on Islamophobia and calls for acknowledgement and accountability within the Muslim community.
In a nutshell, Dada’s writing emanates with a captivating warmth and vitality, weaving an array of engaging narratives, particularly in the initial stages of the play.
It effectively presents an authentic portrayal of contemporary Muslim masculinity, drawing readers into a first-hand experience. The narrative thoughtfully explores subjects such as radical prejudice, religious intolerance, the intricacies of modern dating apps, and social class dynamics in present-day Britain.
The authentic and genuine character interactions are thoughtfully paired with enlightening snippets from Jihad’s documentary, offering valuable insights into the Muslim culture and the unique world of shisha lounges.
Yet, the true pleasure emerges from the genuine voices of these young men, making it a truly compelling read for those seeking an authentic perspective.
Tickets for “Blue Mist” can be purchased here.
Zainab Mehdi is a Researcher and Freelance Journalist specialising in governance, development, and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Follow her on Twitter: @zaiamehdi