My Son the Fanatic
English Title: My Son the Fanatic
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: Arts Council of England, BBC, Canal+, Image International, UGCDA, Zephyr/Feature Film
Director: Udayan Prasad
Editor: David Gamble
Runtime: 88 minutes
Taxi driver Parvez works the nightshift, portering prostitutes and their clients around the run-down streets of a Yorkshire town. He balances his own liberalism against the growing religious and political fanaticism of his frustrated son Farid. Parvez is distanced from his conservative wife and cannot understand his son; Farid gradually becomes more judgemental about his father’s life and conspires with his mother. Parvez confides in his sex-worker friend Bettina as he transports her between meetings with her client, German businessman Mr Schitz. As Farid becomes increasingly fanatical, his father becomes more liberal, playing Louis Armstrong and drinking whiskey in his basement as a rebellion against the serious young men and their imported Maulvi (religious instructor) who increasingly fill the house. Parvez's friendship with Bettina deepens, and he has to make a choice between his family, his friends and his own happiness.
When My Son the Fanatic was released, it caught a moment in British multiculturalism that would have been impossible just a few short years later in the wake of 9/11. This is because, whilst the film is set in the kind of northern town synonymous with stories about British-Asian converts to religious fundamentalism, it deals with the frustrations of a father and his son about existing both within and outside British culture. It approaches the subject with a sensitivity that emphasizes the dilemma of many British-Asian people: what does it mean to be British and Othered by British society? This is an area that many films and television dramas about British-South-Asian identities have approached before and since, for example My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985), Bhaji on the Beach (Gurinder Chadha, 1992), East is East (Damien O’Donnell, 1999) and Britz (Peter Kominsky, 2007).
My Son the Fanatic does not profess to answer these questions and problematizes the answers given by the characters about finding a place in British society, making most of them 'other' in some way. Consequently, the film can be read as expressing the idea that we are all strangers. All the characters are fundamentally strangers, with the exception of Parvez (Om Puri) and Bettina (Rachel Griffiths). They become the only real bond in the film as they share personal concerns, leading to Bettina telling Parvez her real name. They share physical intimacy when Bettina kisses Parvez, saying it is a long time ‘since I kissed a man’ and thus, despite her prostitution, the kiss is genuine and very personal.
Strangeness pervades the narrative and the characters’ interactions, but it is especially apparent in the relationships between Parvez, his wife Minoo (Gopi Desai) and their son, Farid (Akbar Kurtha). Minoo is in sympathy with her son and is critical of Parvez playing jazz and drinking whiskey. Their split lives are highly indicative of the estrangement between husband and wife, with Parvez working at night and Minoo carrying out her ‘duties’ during the day. Yet great affection is initially shown between father and son, and Parvez is clearly proud of Farid. However, Farid’s tension appears to be initiated by Parvez’s pride being tied into Farid’s engagement to the white daughter of a senior policeman, an engagement that is broken off by the conclusion of the film’s opening credits. The audience learns that Farid ended the relationship because of his antagonism towards his future in-laws and their bigotry – the audience is just as aware of the white family’s snobbery as they are of Parvez’s nervous gushing.
My Son the Fanatic articulates a concern about fanaticism, which is genuine for many British-South-Asian parents. It is a concern that, in 1997, seemed less real that it does today, and which Kosminsky’s Britz naturally elaborated upon to reflect the post-9/11 world. My Son the Fanatic stands as a rare example of a film about multiculturalism that fully interrogates the schism of identity felt by many on the periphery of the dominant culture and ideology.
Author of this review: E Anna Claydon