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Brothers In Trouble (1995)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Brothers In Trouble (1995)
DirectorUdayan Prasad
Production CompanyBBC Films, Renegade Films, Kinowelt Filmproduktion, Paris Mikado Films
ProducerRobert Buckler
ScreenplayRobert Buckler
Original NovelAbdullah Hussein
CinematographyAlan Almond
EditorBarrie Vince
MusicStephen Warbeck

Cast: Om Puri (Hussein Shah); Angeline Ball (Mary); Pavan Malhotra (Amir); Pravesh Kumar (Sakib); Ahsen Bhatti (Irshad)

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A group of illegal immigrants from Pakistan find their already troubled existence threatened with a crisis when one of them brings a pregnant white girl to live in their crammed household.

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The cinema debut of Udayan Prasad, who had made a number of well-regarded films for the BBC (including collaborations with writers G.F. Newman, Alan Bennett and Simon Gray), Brothers in Trouble was the first of two films that dramatised important cross-cultural issues from an explicitly Asian perspective.

While My Son The Fanatic (1997), tackled fundamentalist Islam, Brothers in Trouble is about illegal immigration, depicted from the point of view of Amir (Pavan Malhotra) who arrives in an unnamed Midlands town in the mid-1960s as part of an organised racket that culminates in an aggressive 'agent' (Kulvinder Ghir) demanding weekly payments for his silence.

The film's title alludes to the fact that the eighteen-strong household is permanently in trouble: even minor slip-ups, such as Amir inadvertently producing dollars to pay for shopping, are fraught with peril. But despite this, and the physical discomfort, low pay and long hours (their bosses actively prefer illegal workers as they have no employment rights), there is so much camaraderie, including weekly Bollywood films and visits from the local prostitute - that Mary (Angeline Ball) later regards it as the happiest time of her life.

But her arrival as the girlfriend of house leader Hussein Shah (Om Puri) sets in train the household's downfall - not because she's white and female but because she can also be opportunistically exploited. Unlike the situation in the factory, it's her legal status that's valuable, as it allows Hussein Shah's nephew Irshad (Ahsen Bhatti) to bypass the usual vegetable-crate immigration system and enter the country legally via a sham marriage.

But this fatally unbalances the household, as the "brothers'" solidarity in the face of potential deportation has no effect on Irshad, who is free to drink in the pub and mingle with the outside world as much as he likes, while Amir is forced to watch helplessly as the only world he knows is torn apart by alcohol, unrequited lust and murderous jealousy.

Prasad himself first entered Britain in the early 1960s at the age of nine, and is consequently highly sensitive to the immigrants' plight, depicted with a notable lack of stereotyping. In a generally excellent cast, the Indian actor Pavan Malhotra (in his second British film after City of Joy, d. Roland Joffé, 1992) pulls off the particularly challenging task of holding the attention despite his character being almost totally passive - because Amir's passivity is the key to his survival.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Amir's arrival (4:53)
2. Bringing home Mary (2:23)
3. Mary's baby (4:07)
Production stills
Bhatti, Ace (1970-)
Ghir, Kulvinder
Prasad, Udayan (1953-)
Puri, Om (1950-)
Asian-British Cinema