Friday, 9 September 2016

Yasmin (2004)

Yasmin is a film from director Kenny Glanaan and writer Simon Beaufoy born from a series of workshops across Oldham and Bradford about what it is to be a British Asian and Muslim in the wake of the riots in the area and subsequently 9/11. As such, it tells its tale small, urban tale with an eye on global events with far reaching consequences.

The eponymous Yasmin is a strong and confident young northern woman who works for some sort of charity or an arm of social services helping the disabled in the area. She is from a traditional Muslim family, but she herself is lapsed, having last visited a mosque some five years earlier and now living in the house across the street from the rest of her family.  As a person, Yasmin is somewhat westernised in that she identifies with her predominantly white colleagues and their lifestyle choices - though she refuses to drink alcohol; something which she keeps a secret from them - but clearly she respects her devout father enough to pay lip service to his faith. We see this in the scenes in which she sets out to work each day, dressed in the traditional hijab, before pulling off the road some distance away to change into jeans and a top. We also come to realise that her lapse hasn't precluded her from indulging her father's wishes and entering an arranged marriage with the Pakistani Faysal. From Yasmin's point of view though their marriage exists only on paper; once he has secured the 'right to remain' status in the UK, she expects a divorce. Yasmin is played by the brilliant Archie Panjabi, who delivers the kind of strong performance we have come to expect from her throughout the film. No mean feat when you consider she is required to address and encompass the issues of gender, nationality, religion, age and independence in her character.

Life changes irrevocably for the carefree Yasmin with the events of just one day; September 11th, 2001. Following the attack on the Twin Towers, hostility towards the Asian community increases and begins to affect Yasmin herself. We know it existed of course - we see her father repeatedly washing off the NF graffiti from the doorway of his TV repair shop - but Yasmin had clearly personally felt westernised enough to presume immunity from it until that point. It starts with a post-it note on her locket at work 'Yasmin loves Osama' and she naively has to ask her friend who Osama is. Later, her employee of the month photo is sabotaged when someone draws a thick, long beard upon it. Yasmin begins to feel increasingly isolated and unsure of her own identity which comes to a head when armed police raid her home and arrest her husband on suspicion of terrorism, spiriting him away into the Kafkaesque depths of immigration detention centres and anti-terrorism laws.

If Yasmin as a film has any flaws it is perhaps in trying to take on too much. It expects a lot from its central character and the subplots around her, including her equally westernised, weed dealing younger brother Nasir falling under the spell of a local 'hate cleric', may be admirable in their intentions but perhaps need an equal amount of screen time and focus to truly satisfy. Nevertheless, this remains a strong and important piece of British Asian cinema whose message about the hate and prejudice the Asian or immigrant community suffer from after a dramatic event is sadly just as important and timely to tell now in our post-Brexit state.

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