London-based filmmaker Islah Abdur Rahman shares his remarkable journey within the entertainment industry, shedding light on the lack of representation in media during his formative years. This lack of diversity served as a powerful catalyst, propelling him to become a genuine role model for the British Bangladeshi community. Islah’s unwavering commitment to both his craft and his community becomes palpable as he delves into his various projects.
In an exclusive interview with Tinds, he touches upon his personal narrative, placing a strong emphasis on the significance of time management and the importance of remaining grounded amidst the tumultuous world of showbiz. Islah’s journey stands as a source of inspiration, exemplifying how sheer determination, unbridled creativity, and a profound sense of purpose can pave the way to success in the realm of media and filmmaking.
Tinds: Tell us about your childhood
Islah: I hail from South London, where I spent my childhood as part of a British Bangladeshi family. In terms of my early education, I must admit that I didn’t excel during my school years. However, my life took a turn for the better when I entered university, as that’s when I decided to follow my passion for media, TV, and film, setting the foundation for my career in this field.
Tinds: What motivated you to pursue such a career, especially in filmmaking and media in general?
Islah: Well, my motivation stems from the fact that, as I was growing up, I rarely saw anyone on screen who looked like me. Throughout my childhood, there was a noticeable absence of individuals who could serve as sources of inspiration and who shared my background—someone who not only resembled me but also spoke like me, belonged to the same cultural background, practiced the same faith, and came from the British Bangladeshi community, particularly from my part of the world. I yearned to change this and become that role model for the upcoming generations. This has been my driving force ever since I began my journey in this field back in 2012.
Tinds: Since you’re balancing multiple roles in the entertainment industry, which can be very demanding, how do you manage?
Islah: I believe that scheduling is a crucial factor in life, particularly as you grow older and your responsibilities naturally increase. Life keeps getting busier, and it’s essential to acknowledge and accept that reality. To effectively manage this, you must allocate time wisely. A prime example of managing a busy schedule is Dwayne Johnson, one of the most hectic figures in the entertainment industry. Yet, he still finds time to engage with his audience on his Instagram page. So, it’s not an impossible feat; it all comes down to how you prioritize your commitments.
Everyone needs to prioritize various aspects of their life, such as family time, mental health, and physical fitness. Simultaneously, you need to find time for your creative pursuits. As you grow older, certain things may no longer take precedence. For instance, if you’re a doctor, one of the busiest professions, you work tirelessly at the hospital and come home exhausted, but your family also requires your attention. Finding a balance requires careful scheduling and making choices based on your priorities.
Anyone can experience burnout, which hampers creativity. Therefore, it’s essential to strike a balance and allocate time to rejuvenate and recharge.
Tinds: What’s your daily routine like? Are you a morning person, or do you like to work late at night?
Islah: I naturally tend to be more active during the night. This nocturnal inclination has been with me since I was young. However, as I’ve grown older, it’s become increasingly challenging to stay up late. I make an effort to rise early, kickstart my day, hit the gym, take care of various family responsibilities, and address any pressing matters.
Nevertheless, my daily routine is quite diverse, and it heavily depends on my schedule. Whether I have meetings, events, premieres, screenings, or other commitments, it shapes how my day unfolds. But that’s also what makes this lifestyle beautiful—the flexibility it offers. Nonetheless, it’s a dream with its challenges because, in the traditional work setting, you have a predictable nine-to-five routine that assures a stable income directly into your bank account.
Tinds: Could you share which project stands out as the most memorable for you?
Islah: The project that I find most challenging and simultaneously the most rewarding has to be the YouTube series I created, “The Corner Shop.” This was a labor of love, made with very little financial return in mind. I embarked on it out of passion and a desire to fill a void that existed at the time. There was a glaring absence of British Bangladeshi representation in the media, especially in comedy. “The Corner Shop” became my canvas to unleash my creativity, breaking free from the constraints imposed by conventional broadcast companies.
The impact of the series was incredible. It left an indelible mark on my career, influencing everything I’ve pursued since then. To this day, it’s what I’m primarily recognized for. In fact, just today, while shooting hoops on a basketball court, a young child recognized me from “Corner Shop.” This show continues to resonate with people, even with those who watched it as kids and have now grown into their twenties.
The most rewarding aspect of this project is the community it fosters. Families would plan their schedules around its release, bringing them together in front of the TV. I’ve received heartwarming messages, like one from a person whose father started watching the show with the family and finally spent quality time with them. Another young girl mentioned how “Corner Shop” helped her cope with her parents’ divorce.
I’ve also heard from a parent whose child dressed up as my character, Malik, for World Book Day. It’s moments like these that are truly priceless, and they emphasize the importance of not waiting for traditional broadcasters to validate your ideas. If I had waited for that, it might have taken a decade or more to make a difference. Instead, I took the initiative, inspiring others to do the same and forging our paths. This project allowed me to express my creativity fully, from creating a zombie episode to crafting music and staging fight scenes and weddings—all driven by the sheer joy of letting out my creative spirit.
Tinds: What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Islah: ‘Broke’, ‘Positive’, and when it comes to that third word, it’s a bit tricky. I would say’realistic,,’ as in not letting industry success go to my head. You see, even though I might win awards, attend movie premieres, or meet celebrities, I’m still just a regular guy. I expect to be treated the same as anyone else, remaining grounded in my faith and humanity. It’s hard to condense that into a single word, but that’s what I mean.
Tinds: Are you currently involved in any projects that we can look forward to?
Islah: I’ve just wrapped up a project called “If Only.” It’s a short film and happens to be my first venture into drama, both as a writer and director. For this project, I collaborated with young individuals from a London neighborhood plagued by high crime rates. These youngsters have felt the harsh effects of street violence, and I worked closely with them, providing workshops to teach them the art of filmmaking, scriptwriting, and more. We crafted a story based on some of their experiences and the challenges they’ve encountered, which often go unspoken.
The film tackles some tough themes, but it’s also been a platform to give fresh talents their first acting opportunities. I aimed to open doors for others, similar to the doors that didn’t open easily for me when I was starting out. We had our premiere just last Friday, and it touched the hearts of those who attended. This project isn’t just about the film; it’s part of a larger cause. We partnered with the charity “Streets of Growth,” and the young people involved were members of this organization. The film is dedicated to them.
So, my current focus involves promoting the film, especially in schools across the UK. Our aim is to reach more young people, guide them toward a positive path, and hopefully make a meaningful impact in their lives.
Tinds: Was your family supportive of your pursuing the field of media?
Islah: The lack of family support was a considerable hurdle during my early years of pursuing my career. However, I’ve grown accustomed to operating without their support and have learned to rely on myself. I’ve surrounded myself with peers who genuinely support, encourage, and motivate me, providing a much-needed positive influence. You can choose the people you surround yourself with, but we don’t get to choose our family. So, we can’t complain when they don’t support us. You have to accept it, move on, and keep pushing forward. Indeed, one of the most significant challenges was not only the lack of familial support but also the financial struggles that came with supporting myself.
Tinds: Alright, what are your future plans in this field? Are there any upcoming projects that you’re eager to pursue?
Islah: Certainly, I have several projects in mind. I’m currently prioritizing those that are not only feasible but also meaningful. While I do have grander projects in my thoughts, I believe it’s wise to keep those in my back pocket, possibly for the day when I might secure a larger opportunity or partnership. For now, I’m taking things one step at a time.
What’s essential to me is infusing purpose into everything I undertake. As I’ve mentioned before, being a Muslim, I understand that every action we take in this world carries accountability. So, instilling a purpose into my work gives it a more profound meaning. It’s not just about creating something aimless. Even if the purpose is to entertain and bring smiles to people’s faces, it can be incredibly valuable. In today’s world, many individuals struggle to find reasons to smile due to personal hardships, like depression. If my work can help someone rediscover happiness, even in a small way, it’s worth it.
Tinds: What advice do you have for those aspiring to become filmmakers or actors?
Islah: I’d offer the same guidance I received from, which was a fortunate encounter. He emphasized the importance of taking action. If you have an idea, don’t wait. With today’s technology, even our smartphones can shoot in 4K. So, just go for it. Discover what you’re genuinely passionate about. Don’t create something based on what you think will gain likes or popularity. Instead, pursue what truly ignites your passion.
Following trends or attempting to create content solely for an audience’s approval can lead to quick burnout because you lose interest in what you’re doing. Instead, chase your passion.
As my father often says, pursue your dreams and what you’re passionate about, not money. When you follow your passion and dreams, success and financial rewards will follow naturally. Share your creations with the world, and people will gravitate towards your work.
Being a filmmaker or actor requires an obsession with your craft. You must be relentless, pushing through difficult times. While many offer inspiring advice about dreaming big and working hard, it’s essential to be realistic. Don’t quit your part-time job, assuming you can instantly transition into a full-time influencer or actor. These fields can be unstable, so make smart decisions and maintain financial stability. Surround yourself with positive, motivating individuals.