More than ethnic comedy

Issue 

Bhaji on the Beach

Written by Meera Syal
Directed by Gurinder Chada
Starring Kim Vithana, Lalita Ahmed, Zohra Segal
At Mandolin Cinema, Sydney
Reviewed by Pip Hinman and Peter Boyle

Bhaji on the Beach is Gurinder Chada's first film — and the first British feature film made by an Asian woman Born in Kenya, but raised in Southall, Chada provides a comic look at two generations of women in Britain's Indian community. The film scores sharp points about sexism and racism without resorting to a heavy-handed anti-men position.

A group of Indian women set out for a day away from it all in Blackpool, a kind of Manly beach. Simi (Shaheen Khan), the Saheli Asian Women's Centre coordinator and organiser of the day, announces, rather hopefully, that everyone can relax and escape from "the twin oppressions of racism and sexism". With the exception of the judgmental and disapproving Pushpa (the elder played so magnificently by Zohra Segal, a respected Indian artist), who raises her eyebrows at such overt political sloganeering, most of Simi's seven passengers hardly notice, so absorbed are they in their own private worlds.

Each of the seven has her particular worries: Ginder (Kim Vithana), who has just taken her young son and left her husband's home, is trying to work out whether to return; Hashida (Sarita Khajuria) is about to start medical school and discovers she's pregnant to her West Indian boyfriend, who she's been seeing secretly; Asha (Lalita Ahmed) is running from guilt; and Madu and Ladhu, escapees from home for a day, are looking for a little boy fun. The scene is set for some interesting and, in some cases, quite ugly, confrontations.

Bhaji deals with the ugly side of family life, particularly the way it can encourage violence for the sake of "traditional values". Bravely using comedy to treat the issue of violence against women, Chada also shows that you can make a film about the prejudices and backwardness in the Asian minority communities in Britain without reinforcing racist stereotypes.

While the focus is on Indian families in Britain, the same dynamic operates in Western families. Right through the film we are reminded that reactionary social values are not just a feature of Eastern cultures.

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