Riz Ahmed is on our radar. It isn’t everyday that a relatively new, up and coming actor has not one, but two films screen at one of the most significant film festivals in the world.

“We are all products of our environment. Some environments are just harder to survive in.”

Every year, I shortlist the films I’m dying to watch at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). I virtually line up with all the other movie obsessed Torontonians to get first dibs at the phenomenal lineup of films. This year, I was most excited about Mira Nair’s, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, with its stellar starcast: Kate Hudson, Keifer Sutherland and a guy I vaguely remember from last year’s Trishna, opposite Freida Pinto – Riz Ahmed.

I had no idea that this same actor would go on to be part of the most memorable film of my 2012 TIFF experience.

One of the best parts of going to a film festival is discovering the gems. At the screening of iLL Manors, Ben Drew (also known as Plan B, the rapper/director) and Riz Ahmad were present to introduce the film and answer questions after the screening. I thought, okay, this is a different side of Riz. At The Reluctant Fundamentalist screening the night before, he was all decked out in a fancy suit, standing next to Kate Hudson, and he was very quiet and polished. Tonight, he was a lot more outgoing, made a few jokes a la British humour, and  I felt the crowd engaged and relaxed in their seats.

As soon as the lights went off and the film started, I was immediately drawn to the introduction of characters. Nothing was politically correct about this film, and that was the best part. iLL Manors was real, it was raw and it was disturbing, but that being said, it was reality. It was the best dose of reality I have seen in a really long time. There were no apologies and no tiptoeing around critical social issues that still plague this side of the world.

The background scoop

Set in Forest Gate outside London, the story follows six main characters and their experiences centred around the concept of systemic violence – why the prostitute become a prostitute, why the drug dealer became a drug dealer and why the young adolescent “gang” became the way they did. Eventually, we see the intersection of these six stories, in the most engaging scene of the film.

Along with a charismatic and grassroots director, the lead actor, Riz Ahmed shines as Aaron. The film doesn’t focus on his ethnicity, and so it lets us focus on the real issues of Riz’s character – one of morality. When the most challenging situation arises, Aaron often struggles with the norms of society and the norms of the rules on the street.

What surprised and impressed me most about Riz Ahmad, was his versatility. What is the one thing that sets a good actor apart from a mediocre one? His ability to be versatile in whatever challenging role he’s given.

After interacting with Riz, it was evident that he’s more comfortable in the less glamorous, more gritty version of Hollywood. He preferred Drew’s grassroots approach to filmmaking, and both share a deep love for Hip Hop – each is an MC in his own right, and they both write and rap about society. iLL Manors features six original songs by Plan B, which act as a musical narration for the film.

Down the road, expect to see Riz direct and act in more socially conscious films. We expect to see great things from this talented musician and actor.

iLL manors is now available on DVD. The Reluctant Fundamentalist releases in theatres in 2013.

Our guest writer, Priya Chopra, is a talented and fabulous Toronto-based radio host and movie fanatic. Photography: Toronto International Film Festival