Cinema Asian America: Director Amyn Kaderali on ‘Kissing Cousins’

by | June 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM | Cinema Asian America, Indie Film Club

"Kissing Cousins' is available through June on XFINITY On Demand.Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker Amyn Kaderali’s debut feature film, the romantic comedy “Kissing Cousins,” is available all through June on XFINITY On Demand.

Amir (Samrat Chakrabarti) is a “relationship termination specialist,” who delivers bad news from one spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend to another. At the same time, he also can’t seem to hold down a relationship of his own. When, however, his surprisingly attractive cousin Zara (Rebecca Hazelwood) drops into town and begins to masquerade as his girlfriend to get his own friends off of his back, things begin to get a bit complicated…

Featuring two of the most exciting, charismatic (and good-looking) actors working in film and TV today, “Kissing Cousins” is a rare treat; a film with an independent spirit and daring, and a comic sense and story that can beat out anything from Hollywood. Plus, the hilarious cameo appearances by Jaleel White and David Alan Grier can’t be missed.
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“Kissing Cousins” is your first feature film, and you’ve also made a number of short films. In most, you’ve gravitated toward comedy as your way to explore the strange, contradictory world we live in. For example, your 12-minute short, “Call Center,” is a biting, black comedy about outsourced labor. Why humor?
I’ve always been interested in comedy, ever since I was a kid. The 80s were a time of great comedy – the heyday of Saturday Night Live, Monty Python and more, and I even dabbled in sketch comedy in high school. So comedy has always been a genre I have loved to watch. And now that I get to actually make comedies myself, that’s a real treat. I would say, however, that though comedies are something I love to do, I also love to tell more dramatic, serious stories. And I love really sad movies. I guess if you are able to make someone laugh or cry, it means you did something right. You affected them with the story you told.

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In “Kissing Cousins,” your lead actor Samrat Chakrabarti is Amir, a “relationship termination specialist,” or in other words, the guy you call to break up with someone for you. His character and job are a great way to get into the main theme of the film: how to find love when you fear you just might be cut out for it. How did you come up with this character?
I wanted to do a story that captured the way I was feeling in my early 30s when most of my friends were getting married and starting families while I was still dating and making failed attempts at relationships. So I wanted this character to be bitter and feeling left behind by his friends. I had heard about the professional heartbreaker job years ago on NPR – they had done a story about people in Japan who hire other people to do their breakups for them – and I thought it was such an interesting idea with a lot of potential. I filed it away in my brain for a few years and then when I started figuring out Amir, the idea for the job came back to me and I knew it was a great way to go.

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There is a 1964 Elvis film called “Kissin’ Cousins,” which has him playing two roles as cousins who look alike and fall for two women who are also cousins. This is pretty different than your film, which explores the awkward attraction between two cousins, a subject that both produces hilarious situations, but a certain degree of social taboo. Why were you interested in exploring this tension?
I think the relationships between cousins is a very rich arena that hasn’t been tapped very much in films (besides the Elvis movie and a Ted Danson movie called “Cousins”). There were moments when I considered making them just “friends” but I decided it was far more interesting to make them cousins. It was an independent film so why not go for it? It gave the story an added dimension of taboo that I felt made it a lot more fun to write.

Your lead actress is the British actress Rebecca Hazlewood, who is now more well known for her roles in the television show “Outsourced.” When you cast her in “Kissing Cousins,” she was relatively unknown in the U.S. How did you find her?
Frankly, casting Rebecca was a stroke of luck for both of us. She had been in the U.S. only a few weeks and was at a dinner party where an agent said he had read a character breakdown for a British/Indian woman and he thought she would be perfect for it. She went to the audition and nailed it. I was so thrilled to find not only an extremely charming and versatile actress like Rebecca to play that role, but she was also a real Brit, which made a huge difference to me.

We can see a number of your short films online correct? Where?

You can see my films at www.raremedium.squarespace.com and I have a channel on Vimeo: “Rare Medium Films.”

What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
I have two television projects in the works and have started a new feature screenplay which I plan to finish later this summer. I’m also in the midst of producing a series of fun little web films called “Pillow Talk” which can be found on Youtube.