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My Son The Fanatic (1997)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of My Son The Fanatic (1997)
DirectorUdayan Prasad
Production CompaniesZephyr Films, BBC Films, UGC Droits Audiovisuels, Arts Council of England
ProducerChris Curling
Written byHanif Kureishi
Director of PhotographyAlan Almond
Original MusicStephen Warbeck

Cast: Om Puri (Parvez), Rachel Griffiths (Bettina), Stellan SkarsgÄrd (Schitz), Akbar Kurtha (Farid), Gopi Desai (Minoo), Harish Patel (Fizzy)

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Parvez is a Pakistani cab driver living in Bradford. While his home life becomes fraught when his son decides he is an Islamist fundamentalist, Parvez finds himself drawn more and more towards Bettina, a white prostitute who regularly uses his cab.

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Written by Hanif Kureishi from his own short story, My Son the Fanatic was the first British feature film to tackle what was already a subject of growing importance in the wake of the Salman Rushdie/The Satanic Verses affair, several years before the events of 11 September 2001 made it impossible to ignore or dismiss as a minor cultural phenomenon. Although Kureishi ultimately offers no solution to the conflict between secular Western and hardline Islamic values, he does at least acknowledge the validity and substance of the underlying issues - and treats them in a notably balanced way.

Despire their seemingly irreconcilable opposition, father and son Parvez (Om Puri) and Farid (Akbar Kurtha) have more in common than otherwise. Both are uncomfortable with their native cultures (Pakistani in Parvez's case, British in Farid's), both are swayed by the malign influence of foreign father-figures (the sleazy German businessman Schitz; the Islamic holy man whom Farid invites into the family home), and both seek solace in a form of spiritual communion - in Parvez's case, his worship of the prostitute Bettina (Rachel Griffiths) from afar, his much-vaunted "respect for women" preventing him from making the first move.

But where they differ is their attitude towards integrating with their surroundings. Here, Kureishi inverts the usual stereotype by presenting father Parvez as the liberal (though he retains traditional views on children respecting their parents) while Farid seeks to cleanse the town of immorality. His stated reason for turning to religion is out of his disgust at the way modern life derives from "empty accountancy", whether expressed through consumerism or prostitution (Schitz has interests in both professions), and although the film is largely seen through Parvez's increasingly bewildered eyes, Kureishi ensures that Farid's position is given a fair hearing.

Ultimately, both Parvez and Farid are clinging on to imaginary utopias. Parvez has a vision of a tolerant Britain which is undermined by experience (most directly by the club comedian singling him out for racist abuse), while Farid similarly dreams of an equally imaginary Pakistan, where pure Islamic values hold sway. Their inability to reconcile their ideas both with each other and with the outside world (and with wife/mother Minoo, unwillingly trapped between the warring pair) gives the film an authentically tragic edge. Like director Udayan Prasad's earlier Brothers In Trouble (1995), the ending is tantalisingly open - but unlike that film, there's little sign that it's especially upbeat.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Drugs and purity (4:46)
2. Parvez and Bettina (3:04)
3. An evening out (2:54)
4. Islamic breakfast (1:16)
Production stills
Surviving Sabu (1997)
Buddha of Suburbia, The (1993)
Kureishi, Hanif (1954-)
Prasad, Udayan (1953-)
Puri, Om (1950-)
Asian-British Cinema