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Bollywood film lays bare ugly face of racism in Britain

I?Proud to be an Indian is a violent film on Asians fighting skinheads in London, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2003 23:18 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt

Bollywood, used even by the British tourism to lure visitors to Britain, has in a reverse gear showed up for the first time the realities of immigrant life and racist violence against Asians in London. Indian audiences back home would certainly be shocked by the film's depiction of life in Britain.

The London-born director Puneet Sira of the film "I…Proud to be an Indian" has departed radically from the usual use by Bollywood film producers of castles, London landmarks and Scottish landscapes as backdrops to romantic storylines.

In Sira's film there is no rich Indian young man coming to Britain and falling in love with the curvaceous daughter of an Indian immigrant and the couple doing song and dance sequences on London's red buses or in the park at Leicester Square where Salman and Mahima were "shot" cooing among pigeons for Baghbaan.

The film is a violent Bollywood melodrama about Asians fighting skinheads on the streets of London. Sira has based it on his own experiences of growing up in East London in the 70s when attacks on Asians were almost a daily routine.

But unlike now, in the 70s most immigrants kept quiet. They did not write back to warn relatives and friends in India about the racism. But Sira's film could explode the El Dorado image of Britain that induces would be immigrants to sell all to come here.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph Sira said: "Indian moviegoers are used to seeing Britain as a fantasy land where everyone goes to school in helicopter and lives in an ancient mansion.

" I'm showing them the raw reality of racist violence, and that's never been done before in Bollywood." He added: "Nobody in India knows about skinheads. You tell people in Bombay about the BNP ( right-wing British National Party) and they just look puzzled.

"They have just never heard about the abuse and violence British Asians have suffered. This film is going to tell them what it is really like. We are aiming at a diverse audience --- everybody from trendy Londoners to Delhi rickshaw drivers."

The film shot in London on a £600,000 budget with a mixed British and Indian crew is aimed at a commercial market in both countries. There are no usual Bollywood clichés of songs and dances. It instead opts for its formula for action and melodrama.

The Indian hero's middle class immigrant family endures attacks before deciding to counter and take the fight to tormentors. He sinks his differences with a Pakistani to jointly fight back skinhead thugs. The two become close friends.

A few actors are Pakistani-born but the hero is Shail Kumar Singh, a Bollywood actor. The film ends with a violent street fight scene in which a tall racist villain gets his comeuppance as the Asians thrash skinhead trouble-makers.

Sira denied in his interview with the daily that the film was anti-British. He hopes that it will open the eyes of Indians to the problems of racist violence if they visit, " but it's not all negative. We have made sure we included a sympathetic police character, who tries to help victims of racism".

Sira says the film will make Indians understand that all is not good in the west. "There is a dark side to western society, too."

Apparently 36-year-old Sira, has relived some of his younger days in East End in the film. But, hopefully, it will not overshadow the fact that in no other country Southalls and Wembleys could have come up and flourished as they do here.

At the same time Sira's film could help root out racism here by focussing on the problem specially in north England cities and in the police ranks. A recent BBC documentray had ripped the lid off the deep-rooted racist feelings in some trainee police officers.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST