"Have a female fun time!"
Somewhat forgotten once East Is East burst onto our screens, Bhaji on the Beach, director Gurinder Chadha's feature length debut is a charming culture clash comedy co-written by Meera Syal (who I always prefer behind the camera rather than in front of) The film uses the premise of a day trip to Blackpool for the members of an Asian women's community group in Birmingham to explore issues facing the contemporary British Asian community and serves to empower women in general without coming off too earnest, preachy or right on. The characters each represent the various attitudes and outlooks of the women they depict; The leader of the group and designated driver for the day, Simi (Shaheen Khan) is a very westernised right on liberal feminist, whilst the elders, including the duo Bina and Pushpa (Surendra Kochar and Zohra Segal) and Asha (Lalita Ahmed) are more conservative and bound by tradition, though Asha is shown - largely through a series of vivid nightmarish daydreams - to be troubled by the realisation that this is not all it is cracked up to be. The youngest women, teenagers Ladhu and Madhu (Nisha Nayar and Renu Kochar) are simply on the lookout for boys and a good time. Inbetween in terms of age are the characters struggling with the cultural shift the most; Kim Vithana's Ginder is separated from her abusive husband (Jimmi Harkishan) and determined to bring up their son alone, whilst Hashida (Sarita Khajuria - who tragically died in mysterious circumstances in 2003 aged just 29) has just learnt that she has fallen pregnant by her black boyfriend (Mo Sesay) she has been keeping secret from her family, and each are somewhat looked down upon by their more prejudiced elders. Only Rekha (Souad Faress) seems to have things sorted; a glamourpuss visiting from Bombay - though perhaps tellingly this character is probably the least developed behind being a cipher and the least given to do overall.
The film offers some strong and sound observations about prevalent prejudices and the difficulties faced by the younger, British-born generation of Asians. In perhaps one of the film's most striking scenes set in a greasy spoon, Chadha tackles the prejudices in the most intricate of manners; we see the two older ladies from the group become the subject of the cafe proprietor's racism, whilst they ignore these insults to dish out their own spiteful comments concerning what they believe to be the wanton behaviour of Hashida, seated just a few feet away.
The movie approaches the main storylines with great thought and sensitivity, and the humour is of the wry smile kind rather than the belly laugh. Nonetheless this is a charming piece that pays off after what is a somewhat messy start. Ultimately I think Syal and Chadha tried to do too much in terms of representation with their ensemble characters which makes the opening 15/20 minutes quite full on.