Ian Iqbal Rashid playfully titled his first feature film “Touch of Pink” after “That Touch of Mink,” a glossy 1962 romantic comedy that paired Doris Day as a secretary and Cary Grant as the wealthy playboy who pursued her. The semi-autobiographical picture is about Alim (Jimi Mistry), an Indian-Canadian living in London with his boyfriend Giles (Kristen Holden-Ried), who’s discomfited by a visit from his mother (Suleka Mathew) because she doesn’t know her son is gay–hardly a plot directly descended from that of the earlier film. But in Rashid’s script, the protagonist is a devotee of old movies, and regularly converses with the spirit of Grant (Kyle MacLachlan), who offers the young man advice on how to fool his mother into believing that he’s engaged to his lover’s sister. And, as the writer-director explained during a recent Dallas interview, the 1962 picture had a special meaning for him, too.
“I don’t think it’s a great movie, to be honest,” he said. “But it’s kind of an important movie to me personally. When I was a kid, I remember staying home from school, and my mother worked a couple of jobs so I didn’t get to see her that often. But she loved that movie. We watched it one afternoon when I was sick when I was a kid, and it stayed with me how it completely transformed her when she watched it. And it sort of provided some clues about her as a person which I hadn’t realized before. So when I was writing this script, it seemed to be weighing quite heavily on [me], since it is essentially a mother-son movie. So right away I put it in.”
The title reference isn’t the only way that “Touch of Pink” connects to Rashid’s life. “The whole film is so autobiographical,” he said. “I don’t talk to Cary Grant, or I won’t admit to it, anyway. But I do in a way feel I’ve had this conversation with old movies my whole life. They’ve done good things and bad things. They’ve provided inspiration and ideas of romance and hope. But they also mess up your head–the values of old movies, their belief in the happily-ever-after, the idea of justice as it exists in the movies, which doesn’t happen in real life. It’s been this kind of push-pull thing with me and old movies, which I think Alim in the film also has, although he’s living it out in a more psychotic way. He actually lives with Cary Grant!…Only at the end does Alim realize that he invented Cary and needs to let go of him.” And the character of the mother? “She’s like a watered-down version of my mother–my mother is that woman on steroids,” Rashid joked. “I was really worried about my folks seeing the film–my dad’s alive–because I’ve made them quite vulnerable by putting our family history on screen like that. In a way, all storytelling is autobiographical, but this is quite nakedly autobiographical. So they came to the cast and crew screening in Toronto about two months ago, and they loved the movie. And my mother didn’t recognize herself at all. Afterwards she went, ‘What’s with that woman?’ So all that therapy [was] wasted!”
Of course, writing a film with Cary Grant as a major character makes for some difficult casting, but that didn’t worry Rashid until he also became the director–something he didn’t initially expect would happen. “They talked me into it,” he recalled of the producers, and then the casting problem hit him. “I write with actors cast in my head–even actors that are impossible to get,” he said. “It just helps ground me. But for the Cary Grant part, I only had Cary in my head, and when I found out that I was going to direct, I thought, ‘My God, I thought some other sucker was going to have to solve that one. Now it’s me.’ But by chance, that Sunday–it was on a Friday we decided I was going to direct–I went to see a play in London; a friend of mine had an extra ticket. I had no agenda at all. It was a two-man show with Kyle MacLachlan and Woody Harrelson. I can’t tell you what the play was about, because Kyle walked on stage and I had my Cary Grant. He’s not somebody whose work I was that familiar with…but he walked on stage, and he’s so elegant and handsome, and he’s got that old-fashioned, matinee-idol look….I sent him the script the next day at his hotel and met him for lunch the following day, and he was in. When we had lunch, he did a very, kind of raw impersonation of Cary Grant for me right on the spot. He also did Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock–he’s a great mimic. I just knew in my bones that he could pull it off; I felt a little bit braver with that character….I felt so confident that he could do it, that I actually went back and I brought more Cary Grantesque dialogue to him.”
The plot called not only for a modern Cary Grant, though; it also used vintage film clips to comment on the action. Was it difficult to secure the rights to use them? “It’s funny,” Rashid said. “The older the films, the easier it was. So we had no trouble with ‘Gunga Din’ and we had no trouble with ‘The Philadelphia Story.’ The other films that I wanted were a little bit later…I wanted some of the Hitchcock films and I wanted ‘Charade’…, and they were just impossible to get. The rights just got more complicated as actors got more powerful and more lawyers got involved. To get anything cleared meant going through fifty people. It’s mind-boggling. So I had second, third, fourth choices, all of which wound up being older movies.” And had Rashid wanted to use any clips from “That Touch of Mink” in his film? “I did, actually,” he said. “There’s this fantastic clip where…[Doris Day] is in a dress shop trying on different mink coats that’s just so wonderful. I really wanted that one. We tried really hard on that one, but couldn’t do it.”
What pleases Rashid most about “Touch of Pink” is the mixture of humor and poignancy that he feels the cast and crew achieved on a very modest budget. “My favorite bits are the ones where we go from comedy to drama within a scene, which I think is really hard to pull off,” he remarked. “There’s a moment in the film, for example, when Cary Grant’s in the bathtub, and Alim comes in holding this photograph–he’s trying to come out to his mother–and it all kind of starts out all sort of screwball, and nobody is really understanding each other, and Cary’s throwing out one-liners. And by the end of the scene, when she understands what [Alim’s] trying to say to her, it’s actually–hopefully–quite moving and dark suddenly. And that’s all done within a minute and a half. There’s a huge journey that’s made in that minute and a half and a big shift in tone, and that’s the hardest stuff to pull off: it calls on the writing to be good, the actors to be good, the music to be right and the camera to be in the right place. So when we manage that, that’s when I’m happiest…At the end of the day I made this film for me–first and foremost, it was for me. More than the film I wanted to make, it was the film that I wanted to see, and that’s why I did it….And if people like it, that’s wonderful.”