My Son the Fanatic (UK, 1997)

Lost in a world neither east or west

Lost in a world neither east or west

Director: Udayan Prasad
Screenplay: Hanif Kureishi
Editors: David Gamble
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Producers: Chris Curling
Cinematographer: Alan Almond
Cast: Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths and Stellan Skarsgard

Although Hanif Kureishi is a writer, his work has been regularly adapted for the screen. His work, starting with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), has often attempted to offer a view on the ‘state of the nation’, though not exclusively at a British Asian perspective (his autobiographical novel The Buddha of Suburbia was adapted for television in 1993).

Kureishi has stated he wrote My Son the Fanatic as an attempt to understand the apparent embrace, by British Asian youths, of the fatwa pronounced upon Salman Rushdie. Using melodrama, he casts Parvez as a man ‘stuck’ between cultures and estranged from his ‘fundamentalist’ son. Islam is, overall, pretty negatively represented, however the ‘west’ – characterised by the German capitalist, with the emblematic name, Schitz – is hardly shown to be better.

The BBC primarily funded the film; the Arts Council and the French television channel Canal Plus also contributed. It was low budget – around £2m – and clearly destined for the arthouse circuit. The British film industry, to the extent that it exists, has heavily relied upon television funding since the 1980s when Channel 4 stimulated a renaissance of low budget, social realist film-making (which included My Beautiful Laundrette). Like many nations’ industries, Britain’s distribution and exhibition is dominated by Hollywood product; in contrast virtually all British films are treated as arthouse in North America (My Son the Fanatic grossed a respectable $500,000).

In 2001 the top grossing wholly UK film in Britain was The Parole Officer, which took £3,283,870; this compared to the £57m taken by that year’s box office winner Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Although Harry Potter was filmed in Britain, to British material with a wholly British cast, it was financed by Warner Bros. and reeked of Hollywood production values. Number two (with £42m), Bridget Jones’ Diary, that year has more claims to be culturally British: despite the presence of Texan Renee Zellwegger, the central character’s insecurity made her distinctly British – Americans tend to deal in success.

British audiences apparently prefer Hollywood films. The British industry, however, cannot financially compete with Hollywood; at least, when it tries it normally only succeeds in creating a great ‘mid-Atlantic’ bomb. The history of British cinema can be seen as a series of attempts to take on Hollywood that have led to financial disaster. Rank in the 1940s; Thorn-EMI and Goldcrest in the 1980s; most recently, the demise of Film Four.

My Son the Fanatic made little inroads into the consciousness of most in Britain, however it can obviously be studied as an example of British cinema from the late 1990s. Whilst hardly a trend, two Asian-themed British films were released to great box office success after My Son: East is East (1999) and Bend It Like Beckham (2002). Producers of both films related how difficult it was to get finance for what were perceived to be minority subjects. They both ‘crossed over’ to the mainstream and their commercial success might herald a multi-cultural maturity to the British film industry.

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