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Sixth Happiness (1997)

British Film Institute

Main image of Sixth Happiness (1997)
DirectorWaris Hussein
Production CompanyKennedy Mellor
ProducerTatiana Kennedy
ScreenplayFirdaus Kanga
CinemaographyJames Welland

Cast: Firdaus Kanga (Brit Kotwal); Souad Faress (Sera Kotwal); Khodus Wadia (Sam Kotwal); Ahsen Bhatti (Cyrus); Indira Varma (Amy); Nisha Nayar (Tina)

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Fictional biography of the life of disabled author Firdaus Kanga, growing up in Bombay's Parsee community. Surrounded by his eccentric family and friends, he faces life with wry pragmatism, and doesn't let "little" things, like his ribs breaking when he laughs, cloud his ambitions or restrict his lifestyle.

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Sixth Happiness (d. Waris Hussein, 1997) is the fictionalised autobiographical account of Firdaus Kanga's coming of age within the Parsee community of Mumbai (Bombay) during the 1960s and 70s. Writer/lead Kanga has been a prominent figure on the London fringe theatre circuit, and this film is based on his novel Trying to Grow.

Released in 1997, alongside two other British Asian films, My Son the Fanatic (d. Udayan Prasad) and Guru in Seven (d. Shani Grewal), Sixth Happiness' subject matter and location distinguish it from those two films, which share a modern-day, urban, British setting. Sixth Happiness is set in India, and not only brings to the fore issues surrounding the difficulties faced by those with physical disabilities, but also raises our awareness of the Parsee community in India.

The Parsees - who were driven out of Persia more than a thousand years ago and settled in the west of India - had a close relationship with the British during the years of the Raj. The depiction of Brit's parents as ardent Anglophiles with fond memories of the Raj presents a glimpse of a non-stereotypical Indian family, one that favours a western lifestyle, preferring western food to traditional Indian fare, wearing dresses and suits, and speaking mostly in English.

The story is told in the first person, as Brit takes us through the joys, disappointments, rejections and sexual awakening of his formative years. Unlike many films centred around physically impaired people, here we are aware of the actor's real-life understanding of the issues involved. Moreover, the film's grounding in historical events, such as the East-West Pakistani conflict, highlights shared experiences, while emphasising the diversity of individuals worldwide.

Sixth Happiness makes wide use of the British Asian acting talent which developed over the previous decade: including Kanga himself, Souad Faress, Nina Wadia, Ahsen Bhatti and, in guest roles, Meera Syal and Sabira Merchant.

Tejinder Jouhal

*This film is available on BFI DVD.

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Video Clips
1. Happy birthday Brit (3:34)
2. Six happinesses (3:13)
3. Funeral ceremony (3:28)
4. Brit and Cyrus (3:55)
Production stills
Bhatti, Ace (1970-)
Hussein, Waris (1938- )
Kanga, Firdaus (1960-)
Syal, Meera (1962-)
Asian-British Cinema
The BFI Production Board: The Features