My Son the Fanatic (1997)
Director: Udayan Prasad.
Starring: Om Puri (Parvez, taxi-driver), Rachel Griffiths (Bettina/Sandra, prostitute), Akbar Kurtha (Farid, son), Stephen Skarsgard (Schitz), Gopi Desai (Minoo), Harish Patel (Fizzy).
Pakistani taxi-driver caught between British culture and Islamic fundamentalism
Good movie. Those who push the idea of multiculturalism, that all cultures are equal, have a tough problem with this type of cultural conflict between majority and minority cultures. Pakistani immigrant Parvez has been a taxi-driver for 25 years in a town in northern England. He is a good man, but leads a life of quiet desperation. He feels that his wife gives him no love or tenderness anymore and that she has become to him physically ugly. He works hard, but he just does make ends meet. He helped his fellow immigrant and friend Fizzy get started in England and now the man owns a restaurant. Parvez is not exactly jealous, but he is very aware of the contrast between his situation and that of his friend. Not helping the situation, his wife rubs the contrast between their economic circumstances and that of his friend into his face.
The one thing he is very proud of is that his son Farid is marrying a white girl, the daughter of the chief of police in the town. He is looking to make some extra money to help his son in his new marriage. (The prospective in-laws, however, are not happy at all about the upcoming marriage.)
Farid is very familiar, if not down right friendly, with the local prostitutes in town. He often drives them around in his taxi. He is closest to the young prostitute Bettina.
Parvez is suddenly presented with an opportunity to make some extra money. A wealthy German businessman, Schitz, pays him extra money to drive him around and help him find English prostitutes to his liking. Parvez even agrees to Schitz's offer to organize a large sex party.
And then Parvez's calm world starts to come apart. As Parvez gets emotionally closer to Bettina and has sex with her, talk spreads among the other taxi drivers that he is having an affair with Bettina. When he takes Bettina out to eat at Fizzy's restaurant, Parvez comes into conflict with his friend, as he is virtually thrown out of the eating establishment.
Becoming more entangled with Bettina and Schitz, his relationship to his wife becomes more strained.
But, worst of all for Parvez, is that his son, discouraged about his non-acceptance by whites in general and his once prospective in-laws, calls off the wedding and becomes a Muslim fundamentalist. It is as if his son had suddenly become a member of a cult. Farid becomes an entirely different person. He is now small minded and abrasively puritanical. Farid turns his father's place into a virtual combination inn and meeting house for Islamic fundamentalists. And now, because of the beliefs of the Islamic fundamentalists, his wife can no longer eat with the men; she has to stay in the kitchen. Parvez is forced to retreat into the basement for refuge. Finally, Parvez blows his top when he receives large bills for purchases Farid has made on behalf of his religious friends.
But the worst aspect of his son's new life is that he and his friends begin to break the law. They decide to "clean up" their neighborhood and use such illegal methods as beating up some of the prostitutes and fire-bombing the local cat house.
And now the culture of the Islamic fundamentalists comes into direct conflict with English culture. And the problem illustrates the idiocy of a strict application of the multiculturalists saying that all cultures are equal. England and the rest of the world of the advanced industrial societies struggled for centuries to become fairer and more equal societies; societies that believe in the separation of church and state and equal treatment for women and minorities. The extremist thrust of puritanical Islamic fundamentalism conflicts with these hard-won virtues of the advanced industrial societies. (And, frankly, the values of Islamic fundamentalism like those of Christian fundamentalism are inferior to the values of fairness and equality worked out by the advanced industrial societies.)
But what about poor Parvez? How is he going survive the new situation in which he finds himself. No one could live in a house that is taken over by a group of people who are hostile to the host, his values and beliefs. Will Parvez be able to restore order in his house, while keeping a healthy relationship with his son and wife? And what will become of his relationship with Bettina?
Om Puri was great as Parvez, a very likable man. Akbar Kurtha is also good as the son Farid who transforms into the kid from hell you love to hate.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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