#RepresentAsian with Mim Shaikh

 Illustration by Sharan Dhaliwal

Illustration by Sharan Dhaliwal

Mim Shaikh is a BBC Radio broadcaster, actor, spoken word artist. With his recent debut documentary Finding Dad on BBC Three, and his latest role in the BBC TV Drama Informer. We were really excited to sit down with this multi-faceted artist.

NM: Thanks so much for meeting with us. Such a pleasure to meet you in person. Of course we loved your documentary on BBC which was so moving.  

Would you be able to tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from?  

I do a lot of things, but to sum it up, I'm a Broadcaster, Actor, and Spoken Word Artist, I live in London, but actually I am originally from Pakistan.

Growing up was a bit of a scramble for me, I lived in a few different places. I was born in Dudley in the West Midlands, then moved to South London, lived in Kent for a couple of years and then came back to London. I think because I moved around so much a child, in and out of different schools, and meeting so many different types of people in my childhood years allowed me to form a greater understanding of human beings in comparison to other kids my age. I think it really shaped me in to being the person I am today.  

NM: Moving around a lot must’ve been tough. How was it being British Asian in all these different areas?

I remember moving to Kent for a few years, and actually it was the first time I experienced racism. London, especially South London is so multicultural, that you don’t even think about it. So moving from Thornton Heath to Kent, where everybody was predominantly white, I stuck out considerably more than anyone else, because I was one of the few brown people in the entire school. So I really felt it then.

NM: How was it growing up a British Asian man in London? What were the struggles or hardships you faced having a dual identity?

To be honest when I was younger I never really identified with being Asian, obviously my Mum would be watching the latest Pakistani Soaps on STAR Plus, and the old school Bollywood films like Raja Hindustani on her VHS tapes, but when I left the house I mostly hung around with my friends, who were all black, and I identified more with them because that's who my company was. I used to play Basketball with them, listened to music from local artists on our mobile phones, sending over instrumentals to one another via bluetooth. It was only when I grew up and made a close group of South-Asian friends in my Sixth Form, that I started identifying with the South-Asian in me…

NM: Talk to us a little more about your journey career wise. How did you get here? What did you beforehand?

I always excelled in communication subjects in school, subjects like English, History, Media Studies. When it came to choosing what we wanted to study for University and I decided to go with Broadcast Journalism because the idea of radio and television really appealed to me in comparison to print media which I thought would be on a decline by the time I would graduate. I studied at University of Leeds, it was there where I fell in love with radio. LSRFM (Leeds Student Radio) is where I would go and play the latest UK records on The Shaikh World Show. Inspired by J.Cole obviously. I wanted to get a radio show on the BBC, so I made that my aim, I graduated, won a few awards at the Student Radio Awards, done some internships at production companies, and finally got a job as an Assistant Producer for the BBC Asian Network. I used to make these comedy videos online, some of them are still up, but they make me cringe so much. A few went viral and helped me land a show on the BBC Asian Network, then I got the Weekend Breakfast show on 1Xtra. I dabbled in TV and Film too. I got cast to star in Riz Ahmed's first directorial role in his short film 'Daytimer'. I went on to do a feature film called Freehold, and I'm currently starring in the BBC TV Drama, Informer. I look back at the journey so far and realise I just wanted to express, communicate, and create and those are the things that base the fundamentals in my career to this day. 

 Illustration by Sharan Dhaliwal

Illustration by Sharan Dhaliwal

NM: What inspired you to do Radio? Did you have any idols?

I done my first show on Leeds Student Radio and somebody told me that my voice was great. That compliment really hit me, and I realised I must be good at this, so I will pursue this. I always admired Reggie Yates when I was younger, he was just doing his thing, and doing it well, and I saw him present shows like Smile and heard him present the chart show on BBC Radio 1. I rated him a lot, and still do. He's now a good friend of mine, and helps me in my career from time to time. But I was never a DJ, I always wanted to be known as a Broadcaster, a presenter who can broadcast via different mediums. 

NM: How did you go from radio to making this documentary? How did you pitch it? 

It really had nothing to do with radio if I'm being honest. Well actually, if I really link the dots back from the beginning it did. But that's a very long story. Basically, I starred in my first feature film last year called Freehold, and just before we were flying to the SXSW Music/Film festival in Austin, Texas we put on a very small screening for a few people. The producer of that film is married to an Executive Producer for a production company called Lightbox, they've made some of the very best documentaries currently out there from Searching for Sugar Man, to Man on Wire, to the latest Whitney Houston documentary. Suzanne, the Exec. Producer had a coffee with me and asked if I ever thought about wanting to make documentaries, I said of course I would love to. And she said do you have any ideas, I replied, yes, I would love to go and meet my Father for the first time on camera, and film the entire process. She loved the idea, we pitched it to BBC Three and they gave us a commission to go and make it. 

 NM: How was the documentary received? Not just in the Asian community but wider audience? 

Man, I've been so overwhelmed at the reaction from the documentary. It's been the best received piece of work I have completed so far in my career. People have connected so much to it because of the human aspect in the storyline. It's a mere, simple story of a young man going to try and reconnect with his estranged Father. The Asian community have been so supportive because they can see themselves, their culture, their story on the BBC, and other communities also relate because of the storyline. It acts as a way to allow people to open up and speak about an issue that doesn't really get spoken about.  

NM: It seemed really personal and difficult- what were some of the challenges you faced? What was the message you were trying to get across? 

The sole reason I wanted to do it is to help and inspire people who have grown up like me without a father and really articulate the thoughts and feelings that it leads for people to deal with. I wish something like this was on television when I was growing up because it would SCREAM at me, and I want to create pieces of art, be that in whatever medium that does exactly that. Speak to a generation of people who are and were like me, because that's what I can do really well. Speak on subjects, and issues that have personally affected me. That was the aim, but it came with a difficult price, it was so challenging, so hard, so emotionally exhausting. But I just kept on beating that voice in my head and stuck at it. It's like when you're in the gym, and your mind's telling you to give up, and you say SHUT UP!!! The message I was trying to get across in the documentary is the message of facing your fears, and challenging yourself in something you don't think you can do and knowing that it is for your betterment, and wellbeing. When you look your fears in the face, you become even more strong minded than you was before. I wanted to offer hope to anyone who grew up without a Dad and show them there's a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to fight your way through until you can see and reach that light.  

NM: what is the message you want to give out? not just to British Asians- but just Brits or POC in general. What do you think needs to be changed in our society?

I think the ability to be more open, and honest with ourselves is something that I would like to see being changed, and that's not just in our community but I think in society overall. I know it's easier said than actually being done. But I think the more open and honest we are with ourselves, the more open and honest we will be with other people in our lives. Not everybody is going to be this giving, and they don't have to I get that. But I guess in my fantasy world, it would just make the world a little bit nicer, and happier to live in.  

NM: What are you working on at the moment?

I just literally finished filming a small role in a well known BBC TV Show that comes out next year, I'm still presenting on BBC Radio 1Xtra every weekend from 6-10am, a few more episodes of Informer are left to still watch on BBC One, I'm developing some documentary ideas, writing a film script, and just trying to create more art, because that's where my heart is.