KUREISHI, HANIF

British Director

Hanif Kureishi, an Anglo-Pakistani writer, is best known to international audiences as the screenwriter of My Beautiful Laundrette, one of the greatest international successes of British television's Channel Four.

Born in London of an English mother and a Pakistani father, Kureishi documents the population of that city's margins--an underclass of disenfranchised youth, immigrants from former British colonies, leftist intellectuals, sexual outlaws (gays, lesbians, and heterosexuals refusing serial monogamy), and those individuals who cross class, ethnic, and sexual boundaries. His stories are often set in the Notting Hill district, a London neighborhood the center of the country's most violent racial unrest.

Notting Hill is also the home of film and television director, Stephen Frears, with whom Kureishi collaborated on two projects for Channel Four's Film on Four, Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. Frears is one of many British directors who has worked on films produced exclusively for television as well as those which are theatrically released, but have been funded all or in part by television (the two Frears-Kureishi films are examples of the latter). He has repeatedly claimed that television--not the cinema--is the best site for communicating the quality of daily life in Britain. When he encountered Kureishi's script for My Beautiful Laundrette, he was excited by the prospect of bringing the story of the everyday lives of a group of entrepreneurial Pakistanis and disenfranchised white youth to a British television audience of up to 12 million people, 74% of whom never attend the cinema.

The film centers on Omar, a Pakistani caught, like so many of Kureishi's characters, between two worlds--those of his leftist intellectual father, now a bitter alcoholic, and of his Uncle Nasser, a wealthy slumlord who lets his nephew revamp one of his laundromats. Omar first employs and then becomes lovers and partners with a former school chum, Johnny, one of the hundreds of unemployed white youths in London in the 1980s. The racist attacks on Omar by the other white youth are graphically depicted, but Kureishi does not demonize the perpetrators. In the universe of his stories, the once-colonized are sometimes the new exploiters, and left vs. right, us vs. them dichotomies don't apply. Omar respects his father, but imitates his economically successful uncle, keeping his homosexual love affair with Johnny from both.

In Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Rafi, a Pakistani official and wealthy factory owner returns to London to rekindle relationships with his son Sammy, his leftist English daughter-in-law, Rosie, and his former mistress Alice. The film condemns Rafi's association with a government that used torture on its citizens, but Kureishi endows the character with lively hedonistic impulses that underscore his affinity with his non-monogamous son and daughter-in-law, whose leftist beliefs are more in sync with the writer's.

Critics usually point to Kureishi's masterful use of irony in these two films whose characters embody Thatcher's meritocrats and entrepreneurs, but who still find their identity in some of the sensual excesses of the 1960s--most notably sexual experimentation and/or drugs--that were decried by the Thatcher regime. Kureishi has written in his "Film Diary," that "openness and choice in sexual behavior is liberating," while "ambition and competitiveness are stifling narrowers of personality." By that prescription, his major characters--ambitious, competitive, but risk takers in sensuality--are complex studies in the contradictions of 1980s Britain.

-Mary Desjardins

 


Hanif Kureishi
Photo courtesy of Hanif Kureishi

HANIF KUREISHI. Born in London, England, 5 December 1954. Attended King's College, University of London, B.A. in philosophy. Began career as playwright with Soaking in Hell, produced in London, 1976; has also directed his own work. Address: Deborah Rogers Ltd, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1SN, England.

TELEVISION SERIES

1993 The Buddha of Suburbia

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1984 My Beautiful Laundrette
1987 Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
1991 London Kills Me (also director)

RADIO

You Can't Go Home, 1980; The Trial, 1982.

STAGE

Soaking in Hell, 1976; The Mother Country, 1980; The King and Me, 1980; Outskirts, 1980; Tomorrow-Today!, 1981; Cinders, 1981; Borderline, 1981; Artists and Admirers, with David Leveaux, 1982; Birds of Passage, 1983; Mother Courage, 1984; My Beautiful Laundrette, 1986.

PUBLICATIONS

Borderline. London: Methuen, 1981.

Birds of Passage. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1983.

"Introduction to My Beautiful Laundrette." In, My Beautiful Laundrette. London: Faber and Faber, 1986.

"Film Diary." Granta (Cambridge) Autumn 1987.

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid: The Script and the Diary. New York: Penguin, 1988.

The Buddha of Suburbia. London: Faber, 1990; New York: Penguin, 1991.

London Kills Me. London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1991.

Outskirts and Other Plays. London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1992.

The Black Album. London, Faber and Faber, 1995.

The Faber Book of Pop, editor, with others. London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1995.

FURTHER READING

Dixon, Wheeler Winston, editor. Re-Viewing British Cinema, 1900-1992. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Wolf, Matt. "Hanif Kureishi Trades Pen for the Director's Lens." The New York Times, 14 July 1991.

 

See also Channel Four; Film on Four