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My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
DirectorStephen Frears
Production CompanySaf Productions
 Channel Four
 Working Title Films
ProducerSarah Radclyffe
 Tim Bevan
ScreenplayHanif Kureishi
CinematographyOliver Stapleton
MusicLudus Tonalis

Cast: Saeed Jaffrey (Nasser); Roshan Seth (Papa Hussain); Daniel Day-Lewis (Johnny); Gordon Warnecke (Omar); Derrick Branche (Salim)

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Omar, son of a Pakistani immigrant, embarks on a venture to renovate his uncle's laundrette with the help of his childhood friend, ex-National Front member Johnny, with whom he develops a gay relationship.

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Originally shot for television in six weeks on a low budget, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) was directed by Stephen Frears, from author Hanif Kureishi's first screenplay. Originally shot on 16mm, it was so well received by critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival that it was internationally distributed for cinema on 35mm. Heralded as one of Britain's most commercially and critically successful films of 1986, it earned Kureishi an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.

My Beautiful Laundrette was ground-breaking in its bold exploration of issues of sexuality, race, class and generational difference. It also sparked controversy, particularly within the Asian community, which was disgusted by its perceived degrading representation of Pakistanis. At a New York demonstration by the Pakistan Action Committee, banners called the film "the product of a vile and perverted mind".

Much of the outrage was targeted at the homosexual affair between Omar and Johnny, whch develops from a genuine mutual fondness through the buzz of sexual experimentation, before hinting, at the end, at something deeper. On the way, it survives several obstacles, including Johnny's racist connections and Omar's resentment.

The film highlights a dilemma at the heart of the immigrant experience - the desire to belong to Western society while maintaining a clear sense of Pakistani identity. The two brothers, Nasser and Papa, demonstrate this cultural conflict. An ardent intellectual socialist, Papa belongs to old school Pakistan because, like most first generation immigrants, he believes fervently in education combating racism and is vehemently against the greed and conservative economics of Thatcherism.

Nasser, however, has largely abandoned his immigrant roots, toasting "Thatcher and your [Omar's] beautiful laundrette". He has deserted eastern traditions in favour of money, success, and a white mistress. Despite this, Nasser retains many Asian ways: returning to his rancorous wife and attempting to arrange his daughter's marriage.

Kureishi writes characters for what they are rather than what they represent, and while he may dislike his character's actions, it is evident that he is fascinated by their humanity. It is for this reason that we are able to grasp the underlying truths of My Beautiful Laundrette, often ambiguous and contradictory, sometimes obscure, but hauntingly resonant, even today.

My Beautiful Laundrette's international success helped establish Channel 4's fledgling feature film production arm, Film on Four, and confirmed a move away from television single drama. The Frears-Kureishi collaboration continued with Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987).

Shalini Chanda

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Video Clips
1. Meeting the mistress (1:48)
2. Dead impressed (1:33)
3. Drinking to Thatcher (2:01)
4. An eviction (1:14)
5. Grand opening (2:55)
Production stills
Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
Surviving Sabu (1997)
Audsley, Mick (1949-)
Bevan, Tim (1958-)
Day Lewis, Daniel (1957-)
Field, Shirley Anne (1938-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
Jaffrey, Saeed (1932-)
Jaffrey, Saeed (1932-)
Kureishi, Hanif (1954-)
O'Brien, Rebecca (1957-)
Radclyffe, Sarah (1950-)
Seth, Roshan (1942-)
Wolf, Rita (1960-)
Channel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFour
Working Title Films
Asian-British Cinema
Channel 4 and Film
Social Realism