From My Beautiful Laundrette to Bend It Like Beckham, one common theme found running through most British Asian films is culture clash. For decades the east meets west and old verses young generation battles have formed the crux of multicultural dramas made in old Blighty.
While many British Asians will relate to such stories, one filmmaker who feels his personal experiences haven't been reflected on the big screen is Menhaj Huda. "Although films like East Is East and Bend It LIke Beckham have been very successfull, I don't feel they really gave a true depiction of most Asian's (including mine) experiences growing up as a Brit and the dilemmas we face," says the co-writer/director of Everywhere and Nowhere, a new film set to release in the UK on May 6th.
Having spotted a gap in the market and nurtured his pet project for numerous years, Huda finally found the financing and set about making a film about the secret double lives lead by many second generation British Asians and the dislocation they feel.
Essentially a coming of age tale about a hedonistic young British Pakistani man whose ambitions to be a DJ conflict with his suburban family life, the film stars newcomer James Floyd as Ash Khan, the main protagonist. Joining him are an array of well known Asians faces such as veterans Art Malik, Saeed Jaffrey, Indira Joshi and Shaheen Khan as well as Bollywood thespian Alyy Khan and young talent Shivani Ghai, Neet Mohan, Elyes Gabel and Amber Rose Revah. Also lending support to the robust cast are Brits Adam Deacon (Adulthood, Anuvahood), James Buckley (The Inbetweeners), Dexter Fletcher (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and boy band member turned actor Simon Webbe from Blue.
Shot in and around London on a modest budget, the action takes place over the course of one weekend in which Ash's world comes dangerously close to crumbling down around him. The usual boozy pill popping benders he goes on with his gang of close friends and time spent in his bedroom mixing tracks is suddenly derailed due to an unexpected fling with a Swedish podium dancer he meets in a nightclub plus a heavy dose of family descending on his house for his elder brother's birthday. But its the discovery of a family secret and building frustration of lies being told by all around him that bring things to a head.
Co-written by playwright Gurpreet Bhatti (who hit the headlines in 2004 for the controversy sparked by her stage play Behzti), Everywhere and Nowhere will undoubtedly resonate with young generations of British Asians whose story is being told, and mainstream audiences interested in UK urban movies. You don't have to be Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan to understand the pressure of balancing family duty with personal desires. The underlying message of staying true to yourself and taking risks is one many people will relate to.
Where the film falters is the disparity between the scenes shots in and outside of the family context. Huda excels at recreating the lively nightclub and partying environments that Ash and his group frequent. However, when it comes to the home and family functions, the proceedings seem staged and somewhat dated. With such a large and varied ensemble cast, Huda manages to handle the young talent well. But again, it's the characterisation of the older protagonists within the extended family that feel a tad one dimensional.
On first watch, Huda and Bhatti could be accused of promoting stereotypes. There are Asians running corner shops, young Muslims suspected of terrorism by over zealous British coppers and local white girls viewed as easy disposable targets by horny young Pakistani men. But it's more of a play on these elements. How many of us don't know an Asian who owns a business, been misjudged by the law or watched friends and family engage in questionable moral behaviour?
It's Ash's reactions to the perpetuation of these stereotypes (arguably born from some element of truth) and his rebellion against cultural and societal expectations that are meant to provoke thought. The problems of mixed race relationships, confused personal identity and extra marital affairs are all pertinent issues that are bought up here. "I just want to show Asians as regular people," states Huda, and with Everywhere and Nowhere he achieves this.
As the British born Bangladeshi behind films such as Kidulthood and Is Harry On The Boat? and contributor to popular television titles such as Murphy's Law, The Bill, Holby City and Queer as Folk 2, Huda is accustomed to telling gritty stories involving real people. Subsequently, there's no sugar coating on this film which features swearing, drug use and nudity. Anyone looking for jolly Gurinder Chadha style jokes won't find them here. And while Everywhere and Nowhere may not have the Hollywood or Bollywood gloss many of us have grown accustomed to, the film is boosted by a fantastic sound track featuring a lively mix of retro Bollywood, contemporary drum and bass and hip hop.
Whether you know where you've come from, where you are at or where you are going to, or whether you don't, Everywhere and Nowhere may help locate the answer.
Everywhere and Nowhere releases UK wise from 6th May 2011.