Bhaji on the Beach (1993)

D: Gurinder Chada
S: Kim Vithana, Jimmi Harkishin, Sarita Khajuria

Entertaining anglo-Indian yarn following the adventures of a group of Asian women on a day trip to Blackpool and the personal and interpersonal problems which confront them. Well written characters and strong performances by a cast of varying age overcome the familiarity of the basic scenario. There are also some interesting stylistic flourishes by director Gurinder Chada which fuse popular Indian cinematic conventions with the European art-house/independent film tone which is more prominent throughout. Despite the sometimes heavy-handed political material evinced in a tale of female self-realisation and the laughable stereotypes of conservative, brutish Asian men, the film maintains a light tone which allows the audience to become familiar with the world of the characters in an unobtrusive fashion. There is a good variety of types among the women, with well drawn differences and conflicts between them. The film is generally believable and dramatically convincing, if occasionally convenient. Though it is not shy to explore racial tensions between white and brown and brown and black it does eventually posit a somewhat harmonious future for all concerned which seems a little too much like a happy ending than a real one. Its portrayal of gender is much bleaker, with few males deemed worthy of a sympathetic characterisation, which seems too much like a political statement to deal satisfactorily with the situation. Nonetheless the film is fun to watch and is a fine example of a small film which tackles big issues in a quietly effective manner. It is fast-moving and generally unpretentious and mercifully free of excessive self-consciousness or portentousness. Despite its specific sexual and racial focus, it is a film which general audiences should enjoy, which is surely a template for other independent films to follow. It proves that it is possible to represent the voice of the minority without alienating the mass and that politics does not need to be handled like a sledgehammer in order for some salient points to be made.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.