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Article Posted • 11 Oct 2023

Interview with Zain Dada

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Zain Dada image credit: Johan Persson, Poster cover credit: Mathushaa Sagthidas

Interview with Mohammed Zain Dada

We spoke with Zain Dada, a founder of the Khidr Collective, supported by Amal in 2017. Khidr Collective provided a platform for young Muslim artists and aimed to publish a bi-annual magazine. Although Zain is no longer part of the collective, he's embarked on a playwriting career, debuting with "Blue Mist" at the Royal Court Theatre in London in October.

Blue Mist is all set in a Shisha Lounge which is like a second home for Jihad, Rashid, and Asif. When local politicians are trying to close it down Jihad, who dreams of becoming a journalist, wants to stand up against this threat. He has won a competition to make his own documentary, and he's determined to use it to show the real experience of his community and challenge the stereotypes people often see on TV.


In 2017, Amal supported The Khidr Collective. What was the significance to you of an organisation like Amal supporting the project?

In 2017, we launched The Khidr Collective, a platform dedicated to publishing first-time writers and illustrators, including those who hadn't been featured before. Funding was a challenge because we insisted on fair compensation for all artists, regardless of experience. Amal's support was timely, aligning with their commitment to backing British Muslim artists. Without Amal, our debut magazine might not have happened. I'm no longer part of Khidr, but it's gratifying to see its ongoing success, largely due to Amal's 2017 support.

How did The Khidr Collective impact your development and career as a playwright, screenwriter and cultural producer?

The Khidr Collective had a major impact on me, connecting me with admired creators. We published talents like poets and playwrights, Sabrina Mahfouz and Zia Ahmed. This experience created for me a valuable network for learning and growth.

Now, you are debuting with Blue Mist at the Royal Court Theatre. What motivated you to take on this project for your debut in the theatre world?

It was unexpected. While working at the Bush Theatre, I developed an interest in theatre, particularly new writing. The Artistic Director encouraged me to explore further. Everything started after I enrolled on an 'Introduction to Playwriting' course. After the course I submitted a full play and then things started happening, exceeding my initial expectations.

Can you share some insights into your creative process and discuss any challenges?

Balancing creative work with other responsibilities is my biggest challenge, so juggling creative pursuits with daily life is a constant reality. Time is often a challenge. In terms of my creative process, it draws inspiration from diverse art forms such as gallery visits, film screenings, and reading. It can be quite a random approach. For example, when I encounter writer's block, I turn to relevant movies or exhibitions to spark new ideas. Patience is key; there's no fixed formula, and creativity often comes spontaneously. While waiting for opportunities, patience is crucial for nurturing new ideas.

What messages or themes do you hope to convey through "Blue Mist"?

The play is all about capturing the fun and enjoyment found in shisha lounges outside of one's daily life, in a place where people go to connect with friends and have a good time. I also wanted to make the audience have fun, not only with humour that resonates within a specific community but making it universally relatable. Additionally, the play delves into the perception and discussion of Muslim communities. It scrutinises media reporting, examining issues related to objectivity and truth within Muslim communities.

Are there any Muslim playwrights or writers who have influenced your work or whom you admire?

I deeply admire Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American writer, for his unique style of life-writing. I highly recommend his book "Black Paper," addressing the European immigration crisis, which had a profound impact on me. In the UK context, I really admire Waleed Akhtar, who won an Olivier for his play with the ‘P Word." I'm also inspired by Jamal Mehmood, a talented poet and playwright, and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the arts sector as an artist of any kind?

Firstly, seek free resources - there are many learning opportunities out there.
Secondly, research those who share your background and write about similar themes. Don't hesitate to reach out to industry professionals - people are often more generous and supportive than one thinks.
Thirdly, take your time; resist the pressure to rush into publishing. Protect your voice and publish when you're truly prepared.

Finally, could you recount any memorable moments or anecdotes from your journey as a playwright that have left a lasting impression on you?

I'm deeply grateful for the support of the Artistic director Vicky Featherstone, director of ‘Blue Mist,’ Milli Bhatia and the whole literary team Jane Fallowfield, Gurnesha Bola and Ellie Fulcher . Their engagement, understanding, and passion for the play have been amazing. 


Play details:

📆 Thursday 5 October - Saturday 18 November 2023

🗺️ Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS