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Majdhar (1984)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Majdhar (1984)
16mm, 82 min, colour
DirectorAhmed Alauddin Jamal
Production CompanyRetake Film & Video Collective
ScriptAhmed Alauddin Jamal
PhotographyPhilip Chavannes
MusicUstad Imrat Khan

Cast: Rita Wolf (Fauzia Khan); Tony Wredden (Afzal Khan); Feroza Syal (Rehana); Andrew Johnson (Arun); Sudha Bhuchar (Gulshan); Daniel Foley (David); Julianne Mason (Sandra)

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A young Pakistani woman, brought to England for an arranged marriage, resists pressure to return home when her husband leaves her. The separation frees her from her traditional responsibilities. She transcends religious, social and cultural boundaries in the way she manages her newfound freedom.

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Director Ahmed Jamal's first feature film, Majdhar, was produced by Retake Film and Video Collective, and funded from a variety of sources including the Greater London Council and Channel 4. It was first shown at the London Film Festival in 1984 and screened on Channel 4 in 1985.

Unusually for its time, Majdhar highlights not only the British-Asian experience but also that of Asian immigrants to the UK. It is as much concerned with Afzal's (Tony Wredden) struggle to live an entirely Western life, while competing with the demands of his Asian heritage, as it is with Fauzia's (Rita Wolf) unexpected transition from dependent, submissive wife to independent working woman.

Afzal's desire is to become assimilated into English society. His own identity is an "impure" mix of two opposing cultures, whereas mistress Sandra (Julianne Mason) is the "genuine article", white, middle-class, and worldly. When we discover at the end that Afzal and Sandra have broken up, Sandra appears to have been nothing more than a trophy mistress. The final scene shows Afzal pleasantly surprised by how much Fauzia resembles a "Londoner", and his interest in her is reignited.

Fauzia's gradual metamorphosis - following from her refusal to return to Pakistan - ironically embodies the "ideal" of the English woman that Afzal for which initially deserted her. The allure of the white woman for Asian men is a common feature in Asian-British film and television, including My Beautiful Laundrette (d. Stephen Frears, 1985), The Buddha of Suburbia (BBC, 1993) and, more recently, East is East (d. Damien O'Donnell, 1999).

Fauzia renounces her Pakistani roots to stay in England, where she is free to live on her own, get two part-time jobs, even have an abortion and date an English man. At one point she says "I pity Pakistanis like Afzal who are white for all practical purposes but are trapped in black bodies." But in her quest to regain independence and her female identity, Fauzia becomes the kind of pseudo-Pakistani she purports to despise.

Fauzia also discovers that English men can be just as fickle: David's (Daniel Foley) commitment to her diminishes when he finishes working on the subject of Asian women and begins researching Greek Cypriots. In this sense, the film is more a comment on men seeking novelty in relationships than on cultural impediments to romance.

Shalini Chanda

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Video Clips
1. An abandoned wife (3:35)
2. A kind of freedom (3:14)
3. A doctor in Brighton (2:56)
4. The best civilisation (1:51)
Wolf, Rita (1960-)
Retake Film and Video Collective
Channel 4 and Film