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I'm British But... (1989)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A variety of subjects, all of Asian origin, born and/or raised in Britain, are asked to define themselves. The answers are diverse - British/Welsh, Asian, Northern Irish, Scottish-Pakistani. A Bhangra musician describes the hybrid nature of bhangra beat: a mix of British, Asian and North African grooves.

A Bhangra band performs an impromptu concert from a Southall rooftop for the shoppers and shopkeepers below. Some are bemused, others enthusiastic; a group of teenage girls dance. The song (which recurs throughout) is a lament for the unwelcome reception of Punjabi emigrants in England.

The subjects describe the circumstances of their parents arrivals in Britain: from India via England to the restaurant trade in Belfast; from Punjab to British Guyana, then to teach in England and finally to farm in Wales; from Bangladesh to Manchester then Birmingham; from Pakistan to Glasgow to work on the buses then eventually to retail.

Musicians describe Bhangra's origins as traditional Punjabi dance music and its development as a way of marrying young Asians' experiences in the West with their roots. The subjects express their pride in their bilingualism and their straddling of two cultures, and the role of faith and tradition in their lives. Not all are comfortable with the way in which their culture is 'diluted' by exposure to western influences. One argues that the influence has long been there, and that Asian influences are now prevalent in Western culture.

Musicians explain how Bhangra began to evolve, increasing in tempo and incorporating elements of soul, house and rap. The result is changing society's existing perceptions of Asian culture and behaviour. Asian and white youths dance to Bhangra in a nightclub.

But one interviewee feels detached from the Bhangra scene, which has yet to reach Belfast. Though acknowledging a connection with his Asian heritage, he says he feels no 'longing'; home is Northern Ireland, despite its Troubles. Others agree that home is where they are now - Birmingham, Glasgow, the Rhondda valley - not their parents' lands.

One calmly relates how his family's Welsh farm was destroyed by arson. All express frustration with continuing racism and nationalism, and insist that Britain must tolerate diverse cultures rather than enforcing homogeneity. One notes that Britain continues retains negative associations for Asians: imperialism, the Raj, the Amritsar massacre. Newspaper stories of racist murders combine with images of protests against racism.

KMD performs the defiant, celebratory rap 'Funky Asian', by Joi Bangla Sound.