Above: Sashi Kapoor as Rafi. Right: Ayub
Khan as Sammy. Far Right: Frances Barber as Rosie.
called Caring Conservatism. The latest fibre to enhance this sinew is Sammy and Rosie (iet Laid . Originally entitled The Fuck. it is a provocative. warts-and-all mosaic of contemporary inner-city Britain in all its multi-cultural. multi-sexual diversity. An overheated blunderbuss of a film it asks you to never mind the precision but marvel at its virtuoso complexity. Norman Stone hates it and there can be few higher recommendations for going to see it.
The film reunites the Beautiful Laundrette team of producer Tim Bevan. director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi. Kureishi received an Oscar nomination for the Laundrette script and even went to Hollywood for the ceremony. ‘It was rather like being propositioned by Joan Collins: on the one hand you‘re overwhelmed with revulsion and on the other hand you‘re very llattered to have been asked at all.‘ The lure ofcapitulating to American entreaties and defecting across the Atlantic proved entirely resistable and Sammy and Rosie was again inspired by events within Kureishi‘s own experience. ‘The original idea was to make a film that started with the police shooting of Cherry Gross and the other image I had in mind was of a man. a distinguished. third world politician.
walking up the street with a suitcase where the streets were on fire. looking at this incident and trying to work out how it all started. how it all happened. The film. in a way. is a journey by an outsider through the London that he doesn‘t know
' anything about. that was the original
idea behind it; just this stranger
' going on a nightmare trip.‘
Emboldened perhaps by the success of Laundrette. Kureishi‘s second screenplay is a more ambitious document both in terms of content and style. The story of a bewildered Indian politician returning to Britain for the first time in thirty years becomes a springboard for a hectic kaleidoscope of ideas and characters. Whilst the narrative structure is loose and expansive it does not signify a lack of
clear-sighted purpose on behalfof its creator. ‘I want to write films that are full ofaction. full ofcharacters. full ofevcnts; films in a way where the story or narrative doesn‘t matter very much — there are just all these things going on and all these people rubbing together and there‘s lots to take away from them. The thing I want to try and do in each scene is to make you think — what would I do. what is my attitude to that. and not to make it clear but to allow the audience to try and make decisions. I want to undercut everything I do in a
way because I don‘t believe anything. that‘s the irony — to say something and then realise how ridiculous it is at the same time. Like when Sammy says the riots are an affirmation ofthe human spirit. then he finds out his own car has been burnt and kicked in and you think how angry that would make you. I want to undercut everything to make the film richer and more ambiguous and harder for the audience to make up their minds about.‘
Whilst stimulating the thought processes. Kureishi invites the viewer to become a partner in the taxing task ofcomprehension. Those who are unwilling to participate will. as always. throw up their arms in horror and alarm. However. one suspects that Kureishi rather welcomes the tag of controversy attached to his work. "The ability to shock people is one of the things that writers and filmmakers have in their armoury. Hopefully you have other things as well; humour. ideas. ability to create characters and so on but the ability to shock people is one of them. In Laundrette you have two gay characters; one black. one white. one who had been in the National Front and so on. and then you have them snogging. To some people it was quite shocking. yet on the other hand it seemed to me to be liberating to have these kinds of PCoplc in films
becaUsc they are characters that are not normally represented in British films as are most of the characters in Sammy and Rosie. My aim in life is to make a film that doesn‘t have a white. straight. heterosexual man in it and neither ofthem do I‘m pleased to say.‘
This conversation with Kureishi took place before the storm-in- a-supplcment provoked by Norman Stone‘s antedeluvian bile in the Sunday Times but Kureishi clearly belongs to a new emerging tradition of British filmmakers who feel a mutual antipathy towards and incompatibility with the old guard. ‘When you think ofthe way that Britain is represented in films like Room with a View or Chariots of Fire or Passage to India and then think of the Channel 4 films like Letter to Brezhnev and Rita. Sue then the interesting thing about all ofthem is that the subject matter is quite local. it's about what is happening around the corner yet people will go and see them in Los Angeles or Germany or
Australia and that‘s quite a breakthrough. If you‘d gone to people five years ago and said I want to make a film about a gay Pakistani who runs a laundrette they'd never have given you the money. now young people can get money for films about subjects that aren't ‘international'. You don‘t have to be Richard Attenborough to get funding for films. in fact it probably helps not to be Richard Attenborough to get funding after Cry Money. ‘
Justifiable anger bristles beneath the pleasant demeanour of Kureishi as he offers an inadvertent rebuttal to Stone’s view of the film world and explains the responsibility he feels towards the Asian community in Britain.‘ Because of colonialism. because of the violence. the prejudice. the discrimination people do feel pissed off and angry. It isn‘t suprising. It's very difficult for black actors to get work in this country:
you can give them big parts in films that are seen quite widely and then they go back to Dr Who or whatever. Gordon Warnccke who played along with Daniel Day Lewis in Laundrette has hardly worked since. Daniel. as you know. has had a job or two. I think the same thing will happen with the cast of Sammy and Rosie. What we need are more films about the lives of black and Asian people in this country. not just me and Stephen doing it but many more people because the subject is so rich.‘
Tentative plans are already afoot for a third collaboration between Kureishi and Stephen Frears although. as yet. the subject matter is undecided. However. one can probably predict at least one challenging role for an Asian actor. the absence ofwhite heterosexual males. and that Norman Stone probably won‘t like it.
Sammy and Rosie (Jet Laid can be seen at the Glasgow Film Theatre from February 21 to March 3 and is expected to open at the ( 'ameo in Edinburgh during March. See Film Listings for Details.
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SAMMY AND ROSIE PAGE 58
The List 1‘) Feb — 3 Mar 1988 9