Now is the time to be young, gifted and Asian, says Glasgow actor SHAN KHAN. He should know - he is about to hit the big time as the star of forthcoming police drama Bombay Blue. Khan is not alone — Rangers player JASWINDER JUTTLA and Scottish DJ BHASKAR DANDONA (over) are also aiming for the big league. Words: Eddie Gibb
East of Eden
IT IS I.30AM in Juhu Beach, a crazy, mixed- up Bombay suburb where the occupants of five-star hotels and cardboard huts are separated only by a thin khaki line of security guards. In one such hotel lobby, the guards are preoccupied with an internal security difficulty as a young European man in customary Rough Guide ﬂip-ﬂops and T-shirt is apparently out cold on the air-con-chilled marble floor. This, clearly, is not acceptable behaviour, but the global party-goer is also a guest, which causes a minor protocol problem for the ultra-polite Indian staff. Actually, he is not a backpacker either, but a key member of a Channel 4 ﬁlm crew. Oops.
The production is a six-part police drama called Bombay Blue, about a Glasgow plainclothes cop who for convoluted plot reasons ﬁnds himself on the trail of an international drugs gang. It has been shot almost entirely on location in India and five hot, dusty and frustrating months are behind the cast and crew, with a week to go. Cabin fever has set in big time, and the hotel staff are already looking uneasy at the prospect of the last night party. For weeks, room service has supplied a constant stream of Pepsi and ice to mix with a limitless stash of duty-free vodka.
Looking street-wise in baggy sweatpants and baseball cap, Glasgow actor Shan Khan sits quietly in one of the hotel’s anonymous rooms which is the chosen for the evening’s winding-down session. His vodka intake is limited; Marlboro Lights appear to be Khan’s vice. He is the show’s star, although he is an unknown on television aside from a couple of bit parts in Taggart. There are precious few parts for Asian actors which don’t require putting on a ‘goodness gracious me’ Indian accent to play a shopkeeper, so this is what you might call a break for the 27-year-old actor.
‘Now is going to be the time for Asians,’ he
14 TIIEUS'I’ 16-29 May 1997
says. ‘I don’t want to be seen as a spokesperson for a new young Asian generation, but at the same time I don’t want to see any race not being given their fair chance. In the past decade blacks have risen a lot in terms of their ﬁlms and music being taken more seriously. and I think the time has come for Asians.’
A couple of days later, Khan sits pool-side, sipping a lime soda — the British crew’s favoured method of rehydration. He is explaining how he came to be here. One thing is for sure, this is a long way from Carluke. Lanarkshire where Khan and his five brothers and sisters were brought up. For several years they were the only Asian family in town — as good a reason as any for a young man with
'There comes a time when you totally with- draw into yourself because your windows are getting panned in every weekend. When I say every weekend I'm not trying to sensationalise it, I mean every weekend.’ Shan Khan
ambition to leave as quickly as possible.
‘I was born in London and my father was conned into moving to Scotland — that’s the way he always put it,’ says Khan. ‘Some friend of his said you should check out Scotland, it’s really good. So we moved to Carluke. His intention was to stay there for a couple of years, but he put it, “Son, I got trapped there for fifteen years — don’t make the same mistake.” He was quite bitter towards what Scotland had done to him. There comes a time when you totally withdraw into yourself because your windows are getting panned in every weekend. When I say every weekend I’m not trying to sensationalise it, I literally mean every weekend.‘
Khan’s parents were both born in Pakistan. He is a first-generation British Asian, who
grew up with cause to disbelieve the popular myth that Scotland is not a racist country. Brought up away from the wider Asian community, he has always felt like an outsider caught between two worlds. ‘I was brought up in a white society picking up those habits as well as what I picked up from home life and my parents’ culture,’ he says. ‘I found the white people didn’t accept you because you were different, but if I went to an Asian community they didn’t accept you because you were too white.’
On set, Khan struts around dispensing handshakes and good-humoured banter with a how-ya-doin’-my~man demeanour that is pure Glasgow, by the way. In part, this is why he was cast in the role of a cocky Glaswegian policeman, something the producers spotted immediately when he walked into the audition room. ‘But that’s only half the picture,’ says Bombay Blue director, Roger Tucker. ‘Shan is actually a quite dedicated, serious person and that became clear after I’d worked with him for quite a short time. He’s not a wild boy.’
Although it is a couple of thousand miles from his parents’ birthplace, in a strange way coming to Bombay has helped Khan reach a better understanding of his Asian roots. Prompted partly by the death of his father during the Indian shoot, he has been spending much of his time off-set praying and reading more about Islam, rather than partying every night with the crew.
Khan has also found a soul-mate in his on- screen love interest Shiuli Subaya, a young Indian singer-turned-actress recruited from a cheesy girl-group called Models. Before that she was in an English language soap. so it is not unreasonable to describe her as the Asian Kylie Minogue. In the Indian film industry, publicists often start rumours about the off-screen relationship between co-stars. Shan and Shiuli were close during ﬁlming, though not, it seems, in the Jason-and-Kylie sense.
‘Sometimes I forget because he has his traditions and he is almost Indian,’ says Subaya. ‘He understands about family things, and yet when he’s talking to the guys on set he is completely Scottish. At times it feels like we have known each other for ever. I think it’s been quite an enlightening experience for him.’
Khan agrees: ‘For years I wondered what the people from where I come from are like, but it’s never happened until I came out here. It’s been really good meeting Shiuli and I would say it’s deﬁnitely helped me reconnect. I don’t know how superﬁcial that connection is, but I’m enjoying it at the moment because I’ve never experienced it before and I feel that it’s something that has been denied me. Although she‘s not Muslim, it’s someone to talk to who can understand what I think, some of the problems and where I’m coming from in terms of growing up in a completely white society.’