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The Long Way Home

The Long Way HomeTufts graduate Jaffar Mahmood discusses the various twists and turns that led him to become a film director.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.20.08] When Jaffar Mahmood (A'00) came to Tufts in 1996, he was preparing for a life of white coats and stethoscopes. But somewhere between freshman year biology and his junior year abroad, that all changed.

Today, Mahmood is traveling the world screening his new film "Shades of Ray," an offbeat comedy that he wrote, directed and produced. He made a stop at Tufts on Nov. 20, paying homage to where it all began.

Growing up, Mahmood says the field of medicine was in his blood, with his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all practicing physicians. Upon taking his first biology class, Mahmood says he saw how competitive the field was and realized he wasn't cut out for it. He then became interested in economics, and while it was a better fit, it was not quite perfect.

"I did a few internships during the summers of my freshman and sophomore years, and I jm1_400enjoyed it, but my heart still wasn't in it," he says. "My parents had instilled in me at a very young age that it is so important to wake up every morning and love what you do. Even if you are not making millions for it, you are better off just getting by doing what you love."

It wasn't until his junior year, when he participated in the Tufts-in-London program, that he reached a turning point. It came in his art history class, which covered Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." When he had to analyze the film for the midterm, suddenly it all began to come together.

"When I was in high school, I loved movies," he says. "I was the guy who on a Friday night while everyone was going to parties, I was going to the movies first. I was the guy friends came to for movie trivia."

Mahmood adds, "I just loved watching movies, but with no one in my family in the movie industry, I had never really thought about it as a career option."

Yet there he was, hunkering down with every film book he could find and researching film schools online, hungry for more. While most graduate programs required portfolios of past work, he found one at the University of Southern California called the Peter Stark Producing Program, which assessed applications based on grades and test scores, but also "passion and life experience."

shades_of_ray_poster_400With only 22 slots, he applied and on a "wing and a prayer." But shortly, he found himself on his way to L.A.

"Here I was, this guy who had just loved movies his whole life, and now I was getting to make them," he says.

 At USC, Mahmood says he was "bit" by the directing bug. But upon winning a grant to direct his first short film, "Eastern Son," he realized that to be a good director, he had to be a good writer.

"No one is just going to come to you and be like 'Hey, young budding director, here is a script I would like you to produce,'" he says.

So, after graduation and between working various desk jobs in the film industry, Mahmood developed the script for "Shades of Ray," which he says is loosely based on his own life.

"Being a fan of independent comedies, I thought something unique that I could bring to the table was the fact that my father is Pakistani and my mom is Caucasian, my dad is Muslim and my mom is Catholic," he says. "Growing up in a multi-racial and multi-religious household in New Jersey, I had never seen a movie that dealt with a biracial protagonist, trying to figure out what is the best thing for him while also trying to appease his parents.

"Little did I know that by the time I finished this, the country would have a biracial president, which in my mind makes it even more important that Hollywood be telling these stories. This is the biggest melting pot in the world where everything collides."

Thus, the character Ray Rehman, a half-Pakistani and half-Caucasian male, was born. The film takes viewers on a journey through his life, exploring relationships with women, his family and himself.

jm2_400"His race and religion is just a back drop, and the hope is that no matter what your race or religion is, you can still enjoy and understand the things he is going through."

With the film complete, Mahmood is now traveling the festival circuit, hoping that a distributor will take interest and bring it to the big screen.

While he waits, Mahmood is working on his next project, a romantic comedy which he describes as "'Superbad' in Pakistan." The project was pitched to him by fellow Tufts alum Mike Glassman (A'01), an executive at Outlaw Productions, producers of films including "Training Day" and "The Santa Clause." He met Glassman at a Tufts alumni event in Los Angeles.

"Two years later, I get a call from him saying his boss had this idea for a script and he thought I might be the right writer for this project," says Mahmood. "This just shows how great the Tufts family is."

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications. Film photos courtesy of Jaffar Mahmood.

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