Wednesday, 11 November 2009

My Son The Fanatic (1997, Hanif Kureshi)

As I’ve written before, while I love Hanif Kureishi’s ferocious intelligence, I’ve always found it hard to recognise his vision of London. So, My Son The Fanatic, which is set in Bradford, offers an interesting chance to view his work in another context.

Adapted by Kureishi from his own short story, the script tells the tale of Parvez (Om Puri), a Pakistani taxi-driver in the city. At the start of the film, he is thrilled that his son Farid (Akbar Kurtha) is assimilating into British culture to the extent that he’s engaged to the daughter of a senior police officer.

However, his life starts to unravel through two strands of action that highlight the gap between his native culture and that of his adopted country. Firstly, Farid calls off the engagement and becomes entranced by Muslim fundamentalism. Secondly, Parvez begins to develop a relationship with Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), a local prostitute who is one of his regular fares.

The film is Puri’s, for his moving portrayal of the compassionate Parvez, but it’s a lot less successful in explaining how his son becomes radicalised. However, the image of Farid and his three friends walking away near the end, complete with backpack, was oddly prescient of the 7 July bombings.

Parvez and Bettina embark on a physical relationship that scuppers his already poor standing in the community and finally drives away his wife and son. He’s alone at the end of the film, but enjoying the freedom represented by the whisky and blues music that were previously restricted to his basement den.

In addition, despite everything that’s happened, he’s achieved dignity and a level of redemption by dumping the degenerate German businessman (Stellan Skarsgard) who hired him to procure girls for sex parties.

The script operates on a more domestic level than some of Kureishi’s other work, and particularly succeeds in playing out political, religious and social tensions through personal relationships. It also provides a compelling portrait of an immigrant who’s pulled in two directions by the duties and pleasures of his native and adopted cultures.

BFI screenonline: detailed synopsis and analysis

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