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24th March 2024

Unicorns review: A colourful portrayal of the queer South Asian community | MFF 2024

Take a journey into the queer South Asian underground with MFF’s indie drama about identity and discovery.
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Unicorns review: A colourful portrayal of the queer South Asian community | MFF 2024
Credit: Unicorns @ LFF 2023

An early scene in Unicorns follows Luke (Ben Hardy), a white Essex-born working-class mechanic, as he descends down a set of stairs in the back of a local curry house. The film fades to black and is soon taken over by the sounds and senses of the queer South Asian London underground dance scene.

Almost like a magical portal, a door is unlocked which leads Luke down a path of self-discovery as he encounters Aysha/Ashiq (Jason Patel), one of the scene’s drag queens and a fairly recent arrival from their native Manchester. Ashiq is on a similar path of identity searching, finding where Aysha (his drag queen persona) begins and Ashiq ends and reconciling his religion and heritage with his sexual identity and career. 

Unicorns is fiercely independent, filmed with a dramatic flair and an unflinching eye which takes you into the unseen corners of all its stories – whether this be the London housing estate where Luke and his son live or the South Asian community in Manchester. However, despite the clear hardship present, it never loses sight of the beauty and power found in the release of expressing one’s ‘true’ identity. 

Although there are occasional lulls and some slight pacing issues, the film exudes such warmth and authenticity that to just be in its company is a pleasure. There are other areas where the smaller budget shows too, for example in the musical score which often feels more like temp-tracks than a truly fitting accompaniment to the complexity on screen. On the other side of this coin though the soundtrack and pre-existing songs further added depth to the club scenes which is where the film really shines (both literally and figuratively). 

The two central performances by Hardy and Patel are also both truly outstanding. Hardy for his part is nearly unrecognisable from his role in Netflix rom-com Love at First Sight and Patel is similarly impressive in embodying the myriad identities that fall under Ashiq’s unique personality. It is these specificities which ground the film and make the emotional moments hit but equally universalise the film to illustrate the collected experiences of communities and provide it with a wider appeal.

Unicorns is carefully crafted, imbued with infectious personality and not afraid to take you down the stairs into the dark and show you what’s on the other side. What you find might just change your life.


Unicorns screened as part of Manchester Film Festival 2024

Daniel Collins

Daniel Collins

Head film editor and writer for The Mancunion.

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