If you’ve had the pleasure of witnessing it in one of its many features in festivals, you know how beautiful, heartfelt, relatable, yet unpretentious Kashif Pasta’s short film Desi Standard Time Travel is.
The film follows millennial Pakistani-Canadian, Imran, through his unique navigation of grief for the loss of his father following the birth of his first child. You may be able to assume from the title that he will—of course—travel through time, but no presumptions could brace me for the nuances, details, and relational (mis)connections the viewers would feel so deeply.
Imran stands alone in a bleak white room, and whether it symbolizes the colour of grief or modern minimalism, the feeling of emptiness is palpable.
Then, he receives a phone call.
Without giving too much away, Imran is granted the opportunity to travel back in time to speak to his father again. Stressed about his new baby and the argumentative relationship with his father, Imran reluctantly accepts going back to just before his son was born so he can “ask him how he did it.”
But in a twist of fate—Imran is sent back to just before he was born, leading to him meeting his father, Faisal, while he was still just Faisal: a young man building a new life for himself and his budding family in Canada.
The story takes the audience through the ensuing bittersweet metaphysical irony in this encounter between Imran and a young Faisal. The themes of shifting perspective and reversal of care-taking complements the unique plot line, pushing us to challenge our notions of family, relation, personality, and change.
Imran navigates the isolation of the one-sided anonymity in their meeting while comforted by meeting a more relatable version of his parents. He feels shocked and confused by the surreal situation while desiring to savour and learn from it. He does so while embodying the roles of father, son, and, newly, friend.
It’s bizarre and heart-wrenching all at once.
It’s a feat to balance the unconventional concept of the film with the familiarity of human relationships explored throughout. The audience sees surreal concepts conveyed through relatable imagery and relationships.
We all know of a Brampton boy with a white Honda Civic, but maybe not one with a time travel switchboard installed under a photo of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
We’ve all been so anxious about knocking on someone’s door that you rehearse what you’ll say until you give up. But, not before meeting the younger version of your not-yet-parents.
We’ve been told to eat more by our mothers, but not while they’re pregnant with your unborn self.
The film is chock full of both parallels and contradictions to our lives and also the character’s relationships. The audience witnesses transformation and expansion in Imran and Faisal’s relationship simultaneously after it ended and before it began.
Throughout his visit, Imran sees his parents in an entirely different light than the “guilt-tripping” dynamic he was used to. They are young, they’re new to both Canada and soon parenting, and they’re still learning -- they are vulnerable: a portrayal of desi parents we are so rarely shown.
In this flipped dynamic, Imran helps his father build his own crib, reciprocates the guilt-trips to come when he’s surprised by Faisal asking for a cigarette, and shares a carefree moment of indulging in nostalgic music and a dance. In these instances we are walked through Imran not only learning about his father but about also showing care to a loved one, indirectly answering some curiosities and insecurities around parenting. We see that imperfection can be at the core of anything valuable and complicated, like a father-child relationship.
These moments of joy, growth, and connection are fleeting yet, as the song they dance to reminds us “memories stay with you forever/ these small small moments last forever.” The story pushes the viewer to consider the coexisting brevity and permanence of relationships in all their complexities and the dynamics of caretaking in their own lives.
5X Press sat down with Kashif Pasta—the award-winning filmmaker and writer-director of Desi Standard Time Travel —to chat more about this project.
The first thing my fatherless water sign heart needed to know was why he would make me cry like this. He assures me it wasn’t his intention—I’m skeptical, but I’ll take it. He shares with me the importance he finds in creating stories that are culturally relevant and real.
While travelling through time meeting your parents prior to your own birth might not be literally real, those themes of grief, love, and relationality are, and Pasta articulates the significance of discussing them.
He explains that sometimes these themes can be difficult to talk about in desi families and sometimes having art as a point of reference can help allow those conversations to happen. It can not only feel less vulnerable to be able to point to a character’s experience (which relates to your own) but also less isolating.
He goes on to explain that these relationships are some of the most interesting ones to explore in his opinion, as parent-child dynamics are some of the closest yet most distant relationships one can experience.
It’s a dynamic where so much time and energy is invested but there is always the gap of never being close in age or growing up in the same era or in some cases place. There’s also so much newness to both parenting and coming of age, as Pasta puts it: “A child might be 18 for the first time, and that’s hard, but it’s also the parent’s first time raising an 18 year old.”
He tells me that authentic representation includes a broad range of emotions and experiences, regardless of whether they fit into the norm—that’s what our lives are composed of. Throughout his career, Pasta has strived for well-rounded representation showcasing how dynamic we as individuals and a community can be, versus forcing ourselves to fit into tropes we often don’t even identify with. I think here about the difference between decolonizing something and simply diversifying it. Pasta is unashamed to take up space with his work, considering whether it’s a good piece of art rather than whether it’s a good piece of art that fits into narrow identity markers.
“By giving ourselves permission to make good art and representative art, we honour our community and make space for others by seeing ourselves as valid,” he says.
We chat about the way brown folks deserve to have nice things. Our stories should be allowed to be silly, devastating, surreal, or all of the above. There’s no reason for us to be pigeon-holed into stereotypes or trauma porn—we are multidimensional people of beautiful cultures with unique experiences, and we need to give ourselves permission to express that.
There is a craving for this type of work. Desi Standard Time Travel has toured in countless South Asian film festivals. Since our interview it’s also won an award for Best Short Film Producer (BIPOC) at Canadian Film Fest, on top of multiple 2022 wins including Best North American Short film at Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival and Audience Award at Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.
Pasta recollects how he remembers when South Asian film festivals were a smaller niche, whereas they have become a destination. Folks want to hear our stories, and it’s okay to be outside of the mainstream.
He likens it to the way Scorsese popularized mafia movies, describing them as “the Surrey jacks of their era.”
All this to say, Desi Standard Time Travel is an incredible, heartwarming (and breaking) short film well worth its warm reception, and I’m excited for Pasta’s upcoming projects. Honestly, I’m on my way to find my own white Honda Civic so I can go back in time and watch it again for the first time.
You can follow Kashif at @ kashifpasta on Instagram and Twitter or visit https://kashifpasta.com/ to keep up with his endeavours.
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