British Asian films can be like buses. You hang around waiting for one for what seems like years, only for three to suddenly arrive at once. Well that’s as good an analogy as any to describe the recent succession of desi flavoured releases to have hit UK cinemas.
For a budding screenwriter, jobbing script supervisor and film writer like me, it’s the equivalent of movie gold. There’s nothing I like more than a good British comedy with a hint of multicultural drama thrown in to entertain, inform and inspire me. From Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and My Beautiful Launderette to Bend It Like Beckham and East Is East – I loved them all (but maybe not for the reasons you think).
But do any of them have the X factor to keep us engrossed? At a time when economic crisis, political change and volcanoes are disrupting our lives, we could do with a bit of distraction. However, like any other art form, comedy and cinema are subjective experiences, so I can only really speak for myself.
First out of the traps was The Infidel (9th April, Revolver). Billed as “a comedy of ethnic proportions”, the David Baddiel penned gut buster about a Pakistani Muslim taxi driver who finds out he’s actually Jewish, stars everyone’s favourite Iranian comedian Omid Djalili and a host of recognisable Asian (Archie Panjabi, Amit Shah), British (Matt Lucas. Miranda Hart) and American (Richard Schiff) film and television personalities in cameos.
Skating on thin ice when it comes to risqué gags, it’s the novel premise, strong central performance by Djalili, and sprinkling of funny one liners that keep you amused for the 105 minute duration. But more refreshing than the identity crisis comedy that ensues is the fact that this small budget film has been directed by a young Londoner (Josh Appignanesi) and co-produced by two British Asians (Arvind Ethan David and Uzma Hasan). It’s always great to see new talent break through and make a mark in the international film arena.
Next out was It’s A Wonderful Afterlife (21st April, Icon), the latest in Gurinder Chadha’s series of British Punjabi comedies. A “killer curry comedy” according to the billboards plastered around London’s tube stations and other locations across the country, it stars veteran Shabana Azmi as a Southall mother who resorts to knocking off the bachelors who reject her dumpy daughter's (newcomer Goldy Notay) hand in marriage. It’s the hunky detective (Sendhil Ramamurthy) sent to investigate who boosts the swoon quotient.
But if you thought you were in for another riotous rollercoaster ride a la Bhaji On The Beach, Bend It Like Beckham or Bride and Prejudice, then you’re in for a disappointment. Probably her weakest comedy to date, the energy and wit you come to expect from Ms Chadha’s creations is sorely missing. Having turned producer with this film, you get the feeling she spent more time bigging it up pre-release than co-writing the script. Despite a fab performance by Sally Hawkins as a crazy Indophile psychic, the recycled jokes and obvious desi references make this howler what Indians like to call “time pass”.
Last, but by no means least, is Four Lions (7th May, Optimum), Chris Morris’ controversial satire about a group of young British Pakistani lads turned aspiring Islamic Jihadi terrorists. Riz Ahmed (Britz, Shifty) and Phone Jackers’ Kayvan Novak lead a talented cast and deliver a laugh out loud farce with more funny jokes than an entire series of 30 Rock (and that’s saying something).
Besides the solid performances, it’s the clever writing by Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong that lifts this picture to above average heights. If you are fan of satirical creations like Brass Eye and In The Loop, then you will get Four Lions’ sense of humour. Criminal masterminds who train crows as suicide bombers while bopping along to Top Loader’s Dancing In The Moonlight, is just the tip of the iceberg here. Rather than making Ahmed and Co a bunch of radicalised nuts, crafting them as gormless northerners is what makes the comedy so sharp and hopefully avoid offence.
So if, like my sister, you’ve not been to the cinema since Slumdog Millionnaire, now’s the time to shell out that tenner for a ticket and popcorn.