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
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.
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.
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.
Photo courtesy of Hanif Kureishi
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.
1993 The Buddha of Suburbia
My Beautiful Laundrette
1987 Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
1991 London Kills Me (also director)
You Can't Go Home, 1980; The Trial, 1982.
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,
Borderline. London: Methuen, 1981.
of Passage. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1983.
to My Beautiful Laundrette." In, My Beautiful Laundrette.
London: Faber and Faber, 1986.
Diary." Granta (Cambridge) Autumn 1987.
and Rosie Get Laid: The Script and the Diary. New York: Penguin,
Buddha of Suburbia. London: Faber, 1990; New York: Penguin,
Kills Me. London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1991.
and Other Plays. London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1992.
Black Album. London, Faber and Faber, 1995.
Faber Book of Pop, editor, with others. London, Boston: Faber
and Faber, 1995.
Dixon, Wheeler Winston, editor. Re-Viewing British Cinema, 1900-1992.
Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Matt. "Hanif Kureishi Trades Pen for the Director's Lens." The
New York Times, 14 July 1991.