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May 27, 1999
For Hanif Kureishi, Love Weighed More Than Ideology
Arthur J Pais
Nearly two years after it was completed and over a year since it was acclaimed at the Cannes International Film Festival, director Udayan Prasad's controversial film, My Son the Fanatic that drew the ire of fundamentalists in England, is due shortly in North America through Miramax Pictures.
Miramax, the distributor of Oscar-winners Shakespeare In Love and Life Is Beautiful has held several special screenings for My Son the Fanatic in the past two months to build a strong word of mouth publicity for the film.
Writer Hanif Kureishi describes the film set in a small British city foremost as a contemporary love story with an ideological edge.
He unfolds the story of a reticent Pakistani taxi driver (Om Puri) whose friendship with a prostitute is turning romantic just as his teenage son is embracing fundamentalism. Om Puri plays the taxi driver and Rachel Griffiths, nominated for an Oscar for her work in Hillary and Jackie is the prostitute.
A fine study of a man who realizes that he hasn't been living the life he wanted to live, the film is based on a short story that first appeared in The New Yorker.
Though his producers at BBC and Zephyr Films wanted Kureishi to adapt his novel, The Black Album, the writer was more interested in a story about a father and son.
"I was interested in the twist of the father being more liberal than the son as it is a reversal of what I normally write," says Kureishi whose scripts were the basis of two other controversial films, My Beautiful Launderette (1986) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1988).
"I also wanted to write a strong contemporary love story and the short story had both elements," he adds.
Kureishi, whose latest novel, Intimacy, is garnering praise in North America, says, in the beginning there was just an image.
"The idea for My Son the Fanatic started with a simple image," he recalls. "I envisioned a man, Parvez, and a woman, Bettina, talking about the man's son, in Parvez's taxi."
The story just developed from that single moment, he continues. "The adored son is behaving strangely and the father is getting worried." As the couple begin talking, they enjoy each other's company.
"But this is an illicit love, for she is a prostitute and he is married," Kureishi continues. "It is this kind of relationship the son would disapprove strongly. As the love develops, so does the son's ideological fervor."
While the son joins a crusade against prostitutes which turns violent, the father appreciates Bettina for the person she is, and is grateful for the support she provides him.
"I was particularly interested in the fact that the lovers are so very different in age and background and yet they find something in common which surprises them both," says Kureishi.
The 45-year-old London-born writer is an outspoken critic of fundamentalism.
But most important to him in the film was the exploration of how the feelings of the two main characters could transcend their differences.
Kureishi got interested fundamentalism in the United Kingdom after the fatwa against Salman Rushdie's life for writing The Satanic Verses.
"Islam is a huge and powerful religion, followed by millions, and it is also a big business run by men with enormous amounts of authority," Kureishi says. While he was researching The Black Album, Kureishi continues, he was fascinated by how religious fundamentalism works in the community and particularly how young people use it to police themselves.
"I saw situations in which young people were turning to fundamentalism and I wondered if it was partly as a reaction to the liberalism of their parents who had moved to the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s," he continues.
As the son proves in the film, if you are a fundamentalist you are unlikely to get involved in drugs and hang around the street corners or get involved in crime, Kureishi explains. The writer surely knows that fundamentalism gives the young a sense of identity and solidarity.
"I see how it works and helps people get through tough times," he says. But "there are aspects of fundamentalism which are deeply upsetting and frightening."
"I wanted to explore both sides of this," he says.
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