How good is British-Asian filmmaking?


British-asian movies started of with a bang, but are now a mere whimper.

East is East made up for a promising start for british-asian films in 1999.

By Farrukh Tariq

In 1999, Film Four commissioned a risky, funny and superbly toned film about life as a British-Pakistani in 70s England, called ‘East is East’.

This was a significant commercial hit in the UK, and audiences young and old, swapped their Bollywood videotapes for a trip to see something that proudly stood out as being a credible British film, which happened to be about a quirky yet familiar looking Pakistani family.

It was edgy, it confronted cultural issues head on and wasn’t afraid to throw in a bit rudeness to top it all off.


After East is East

This should have heralded an exciting era of bold British-Asian filmmaking. Has that actually happened?

Gurinder Chadha is the director who followed up the good will around East is East with the equally popular ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ (2002).

Born in Kenya but growing up in Southall, London, Chadha made her name with the 1994 release of ‘Bhaji on the Beach’, and she seems content with exploring traditional themes and meshing them into a love letter to Bollywood.

The movie gave cinegoers a superstar, Keira Knightly.

Bend it was the breakout success for Chadha, and probably got a fair bit of interest from the title alone.

It focussed on the theme of subversive Asian girl who is intent on shunning her traditional life and following her dream of playing football.

Indeed, her strict father tries to stop her, until he her sympathetic mother convinces him otherwise.



You can fill in the bits in between quite easily. And that’s pretty much what we’ve been served up this past decade.

For while Chadha has her fans and has earned her right to create fluffy and forgettable movies, there’s been nothing that has served as more interesting or worthy of debate.

We’re stuck with stereotypical characters and slimey songs. It’s movie making by numbers, and we deserve better.


Boring fluff

Chadha’s popularity has dropped with each passing film. Her attempt to broaden the appeal to as many people as possible, being as inoffensive as possible, has left her with nowhere to go really.

The movie was the debut of the Bollywood queen, Aishwarya Rai, in western cinema.

She rode on the stardom of Ashwariya Rai for ‘Bride and Prejudice’ (2004), and the rest pretty much sank without trace, such as ‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’ 2010 (she loves her clever titles).

Compare our Brit-Asian filmmakers to the authors we have writing about difficult subjects based on their own experiences, and you wonder why the appetite for making similar films has gone.

‘East is East’ also spawned a disappointing sequel in 2010 called ‘West is West’.


How it could have been

Gone are the days of the 80s and 90s when studios took a chance with the works of Hanif Kureishi, whose novels and short stories tackle sensitive issues of race, nationalism, immigration, and sexuality. Many of Kureishi’s works were made as films including My Beautiful Laundrette’ and ‘Budha of Surbubia’.

There is the splattering of TV dramas that have caught the eye, such as ‘Britz’ (2007) and BBC’s ‘Five days’ (2010), but even those stick to the terrorism angle.

There’s plenty of material out there today, someone just needs to want to tell a relevant and real story.