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Buddha of Suburbia, The (1993)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Buddha of Suburbia, The (1993)
BBC, 3-24/11/93
4 x 60 min, colour
DirectorRoger Michell
ProducerKevin Loader
ScreenplayHanif Kureishi
 Roger Michell
From the novel byHanif Kureishi

Cast: Naveen Andrews (Karim Amir); Roshan Seth (Haroon Amir); Susan Fleetwood (Eva Kay); Steven Mackintosh (Charlie Kay); Brenda Blethyn (Margaret Amir); Harish Patel (Changez); Nisha K. Nayar (Jamila)

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Karim is 17 years old and lives in a South London suburb with his English mother and Pakistani father, who has become a kind of spiritual guru to his middle-class neighbours. Karim wants to explore his cultural roots, in the hope that he will achieve sexual and racial self-realisation.

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Hanif Kureishi's Whitbread Prize-winning novel, The Buddha of Suburbia, begins with the first-person narrative introduction of Karim Amir: "...I am an Englishman born and bred, almost". Kureishi's four-part television adaptation, a collaboration with director Roger Michell, faithfully explores the wealth of connotations linked to that final word, 'almost'. With an English mother and Pakistani father and a suburban upbringing, Karim faces existential struggle to accept his Indian origins.

Humourously and ironically executed, Kureishi's adaptation follows Karim's sexual and racial self-realisation through his problematic relationships. What initially begins as an irritation at any attention drawn to his 'Indianness' (when Helen expresses interest in Karim's 'culture' and asks where he's from, he replies "Bromley"), gradually turns into a defiant attitude towards English society.

The most glaring example of this is shown in the radical shift in Karim's relationship with Charlie. Feelings of awe and love for his friend and half-brother turn, eventually, into repulsion by, and rejection of, his hollow Western materialism, vainglorious search for fame and sadomasochistic activities. Simultaneously, Karim starts to accept elements of his father's philosophy, which he had previously shunned and mocked.

Ultimately, best friend Jamila has the most profound effect in altering Karim's self-perception. Interestingly, though, her desire to cure the world's ills, and her lack of sympathy with Karim's earlier dreams of social advancement, is divorced from her Indian roots. Jamila is easier to understand as a product of Western anti-bourgeois ideologies than as a mix of English and Indian qualities.

In the final, most somber episode, Karim is able to reinterpret his desire for a place in middle-class society. He no longer sees it as succumbing to English society and renouncing his roots, but as striking a blow against Western society by capturing its spoils.

At one point, Karim is humiliated by the brown paint added to his face and body for the part of Mowgli in The Jungle Book. At the end, he lands the part of the son of an Asian shopkeeper in a soap-opera. Karim still can't break away from being pigeonholed and typecast, but has learned that the denial of one's own difference does not diminish overall racial prejudice: learning of his son's new role, Haroon asks "Why don't you do Chekhov's The Three Sisters?" Karim responds, "There are no Indians in Chekhov, dad".

Shalini Chanda

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Video Clips
Complete episode (57:25)
My Son The Fanatic (1997)
Blethyn, Brenda (1946-)
Bowie, David (1947-)
Kureishi, Hanif (1954-)
Mackintosh, Steven (1967-)
Seth, Roshan (1942-)
Strong, Mark (1963-)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )