Thursday, 13 February 2014

My Son The Fanatic (1997)

Another in the 'why have I only seen this now?' range!

Thank you BBC4 for screening this last night (as part of a mini Hanif Kureishi season across the Beeb which had previously seen My Beautiful Laundrette, The Mother and a Culture Show special with Alan Yentob interviewing a prickly Kureishi on BBC2 Saturday night)  Made in 1997 (and didn't the opening titles to Dreadzone's Little Britain take me right back!) My Son The Fanatic is still a brilliantly contentious and timely piece exploring the issues of immigration and acclimatising to or resisting Western culture. 

Om Puri plays Parvez, a secular Pakistani Muslim who drives a cab around the red light district of a Yorkshire mill town (presumably Bradford). He believes himself to be utterly westernised but struggles to be accepted by some of the more bigoted examples in his community,  with one scene in particular, set in a comedy club, being especially upsetting as the stand up on stage singles him out and spews vitriolic racist sentiment to the crowd's amusement.

Parvez's young son Farid (Akbar Kurtha) is equally westernised and at the start of the film, all set to be an accountant and marry a fresh faced and beautiful Sarah-Jane Potts, the daughter of a local high ranking policeman. However he swiftly throws all this up to follow a more traditional path, one which sees him becoming increasingly radicalised and fiercely devout.

At the heart of the film is a fascinating overlap of narrative; the son falls under the spell of a visiting cleric, whom Parvez has agreed against his better judgement to put up in his house because he always wants to please his son - even though he's actually doing anything but. The arrival of this man leads to Farid's views becoming more extreme and under his teaching he becomes increasingly prejudiced and hateful of the things he sees around him in the western world, specifically the local red light district which he begins a violent campaign against.  Meanwhile Parvez has equally fallen under the influence of a visitor; an obnoxious but rich German businessman played by Stellan Skarsgård, who is perhaps appropriately named Schitz.  He starts to use Parvez as his personal driver and pimp - ferrying local prostitutes including Rachel Griffiths's Bettina to his parties and to his bed. This is especially painful for Parvez as he has developed a soft spot for Bettina himself. In both narratives Kureishi cleverly explores the moral bankruptcy of both worlds and there's a great depth there to mine and explore.

It's not all doom and gloom however, there are moments of comedy and a lightness of touch occasionally filtering through the gritty themes in much the same way that Ken Loach approaches stories. The clever and pleasing performances from the likes of Puri (when has he ever turned in a bad performance?) make this a rewarding watch and his hapless cab driver reminded me of Bob Hoskins in Mona Lisa, driving a sex worker around and slowly falling for her, or even Timothy Spall in All or Nothing, who like Parvez is equally driving all night to provide for a family he's effectively lost touch with because of the very hours he puts in.

And here's that blast from the past; Dreadzone's Little Britain...

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