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Indian-born Manmohan Malhotra decided to re-locate to London, England, established himself, returned to India, got married to Bebo, and after a period of 4 years got a visa for her so that she could live with him. Shortly thereafter she gave birth to Jasmeet. Manmohan was always embarrassed of Bebo, as she was overly healthy and not quite sophisticated, as a result he always left her at home, while he socialized. Bebo did not want Jasmeet to end up like her, so got her admitted in an English Medium school, encouraged to mingle with Caucasian friends, and as a result Jasmeet was transformed in to Jazz - a stunningly beautiful young woman, British in looks, talk, habits, and heart. Manmohan's plans to get her married to an Indian boy are all in vain. His friend, Parvez Khan, is in a similar situation with his son, Imran, openly romancing a Caucasian blonde, Susan. Manmohan decides to take his family for a tour in India, and ends up getting her married to Arjun Singh. On their return to ... Written by
Though Weighed Down By Bollywood Conventions, Namastey London Engages And Attempts To Shed Light On The South Asian Diaspora In London, Just Don't Take It Too Seriously
Namestey London is a refreshing film in that it gives centre-stage to a British woman of Indian origin, and does not portray her as a one-dimensional, rich-girl vixen, tempting the Bollywood hero away from his constant, truly Indian, girl-next-door. Instead the central character of Namastey London, Jasmeet 'Jazz' Malhotra, played by real British Asian Katrina Kaif, is being pressured into travelling to the Punjab to have an arranged marriage. Moreover, Jasmeet's Muslim friend Imran is in a similar position, a man with a white girlfriend who is deplored by his family.
Namesty London is an enjoyable film, with a quirky, engaging plot and characters. The cast is generally good, with comedian Nina Wadia fine as Jasmeet's mother, Javed Sheikh assured as Imran's dictatorial father, and Akshay Kumar suitably playing up to his zany character, but never overdoing it as Arjun, Jasmeet's arranged husband. But Rishi Kapoor deserves a special mention. His performance as Jasmeet's father is not only funny and delightful- he also manages to find real anxiety and confusion.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Kapoor, Namestey London as a whole attempts, but fails to achieve the deeper, more profound socio-political shades it seems to be aiming for, and it is with this that I take exception. Despite having a refreshing set-up and more than one-dimensional characters, Namastey London cannot quite shake off traditional, as well as superficial, Bollywood conventions about British people, whether Anglo-Saxon or of Asian extraction.
The first is the assumption that ethnic Indians raised in the west are more westernised than native Indians, fully absorbed into the dominant western culture, living the fast, modern, materialistic life- full to the brim with confidence, even arrogance. While some do, this is not a typical experience. Rather, it seems to me, native Indians can be more like this. Such Indians are likely to be wealthy, urbanised Indian residents. Go to a 'Café Coffee Day' in one of Bombay's more fashionable districts, in Bandstand for instance, overlooking the bay, and you may find young Indian women from wealthy backgrounds talking loudly, and self-consciously, about guys, jobs, fashion, and other girls, all in a vulgar way, as they try to imitate their image of westerners.
In my experience, no doubt informed by my being a British Asian, the majority of British Asians tend to have grown up in a fragmented cultural environment, divided between the dominant western culture outside the home, which has historically not been welcoming to them at times, and the insular, ossified, traditional culture that their parents stick to at home, trying to recreate an India which, rather ironically, is fading away.
I feel that the makers of Namestey London have tried to grasp this cultural fragmentation in Jasmeet 'Jazz' Malhotra's situation, not least in displaying her cultural fragmentation in her two names, the formal Jasmeet and her nickname outside the home, Jazz. She has a stern, backward-looking father and a forward-looking mother wishing for her daughter to become modern and westernised. I have no problem in understanding that people in real life have such backgrounds, except that I find Jasmeet's particular character, as explained by her family's circumstances which have produced her character's psychology, to be too simplistic and therefore unconvincing. 'Jazz' clearly comes across as the product of a preconceived, modern, urbanised Indian imagining of a young British Asian woman, rather than a fully researched and thought through British Asian character, rooted in a more secure sense of reality. True, the actress who played her, the fast-rising Katrina Kaif, is a British Asian, but strangely her performance seems to have been more informed by her years in the United States. Contrast her performance with Rishi Kapoor's, as noted above, and you will see that this doesn't help the film.
The second Bollywood convention that the film retains concerns its depiction of Anglo-Saxon British people. There is no doubt that many British people have had something of a colonial hangover in their relations with Indian immigrant communities, which has manifested itself at times in the form of racism. However, the British characters in Namestey London are nothing more than stereotypes of a jaundiced colonialist Indian imagination. It makes for unintentionally uproarious comedy- such as when Charlie Brown introduces Jasmeet and her arranged, but still unofficial husband, to his relative. Charlie's relative is, funnily enough, a descendant of an East India Companyman, who himself seems to have been transported from a cantonment at the height of the Raj. And though it is good to see, in the same scene, Jasmeet telling him of the many successes of modern India, something which needs stressing to many in the west too hung-up on India's continuing failures, this is lazy film making- they should show this through situation and character.
Still, though it is weighed down by traditional Bollywood conventions, Namastey London does engage the viewer and attempts to shed light on the South Asian Diaspora in London, just don't take it too seriously.
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