An Interview with Gurinder Chada

Desi Rascals

Don’t miss the new series of Desi Rascals on Sky Living HD from Tuesday January 20th at 8pm.

When I first heard about Desi Rascals, I must admit I was mildly sceptical. I’ve spoken before about the limited, usually stereotyped media representation of British Asians and the disappointing lack of positive roles we have. And with this show, I was really expecting more of the same. What I wasn’t counting on, was that with award-winning director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice) behind it, Desi Rascals isn’t going to be anything like we’ve seen before. This non-scripted, reality TV show featuring British Asians, shot in real time is going to be ground-breaking for the Asian community.

I talked to Gurinder about what we can expect from the show, how it reflects the diversity in today’s British Asian community and some of it’s boundary pushing characters.

“I am supremely confident that it will fit the bill in terms of showcasing the diversity in the British Asian community,” Gurinder told me. “The characters we have gives it a very multi-dimensional view.

There’s a great mix within the cast: Gujaratis, Punjabis, Bangladeshis- amongst others. There’s different social stratas represented, from small business owners to one very wealthy family who own a chain of luxury hotels.

It’s multi-generational too, which is a really important element. Having the older generations in our show allows us to show how the pressures on that generation are as important as those of the younger people. Parents sometimes put pressure on their kids, but there’s also pressure on them because they want to do the best for their kids as well as upholding certain traditions and values, which is where the tension and drama really comes from.

Ultimately, a more three-dimensional portrayal of the British Asian community will come from the fact that it’s non-scripted drama, that allows for spontaneous and real exchanges between the characters- you couldn’t write drama like this! And what’s also great is that we are not limited to any one person’s vision of the Asian community. Desi Rascals shows you how English we are as well as how British Asian we are.”

“I think you can safely say you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this” Gurinder Chadha

Tell me a bit about the cast members?

“Well there’s Owais who is a property developer. He spent a lot of his youth trying to overcome a stutter. Then there’s Amita who runs her own business- she’s a beautician and is also a single mum. There are the boys Anj and Nurat- a uncle and nephew team who own their own gym.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Amita Patel from the cast of Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

One of my favourite characters on the show is Naman who is an openly gay Muslim. He’s extremely family orientated and very sweet, very warm; and very close to our single mother Amita. He’s not just a gay guy, he’s very much part of our world. I think his journey is going to be hard, as an ‘out’ gay guy.

And he has been very supported by everyone on the show, including Owais, who has said “as a fellow Muslim, I’m extremely proud of you.”

“It really is the people that are going to take this into different areas-the types of people that have come forward to be a part of the show are what’s really going to drive it- who knows where they will take it- and there will be lots of surprises! The main thing that you’re going to see is not what you’re going to be expecting. I think you can safely say that you’ve never seen Asians on TV before like this.”

As the show features a beautician, a Bollywood dancer and a makeup artist I shared my concern with Gurinder that her portrayal of Desi women was limited to rather, shall we say, girly pursuits.

Desi Rascals .Sky1..© Andrea Southam for Sky Living

Expect to see some strong desi women in Desi Rascals © Andrea Southam for Sky Living

“Well what do think?! With my name attached, what do you think?! Anything that I do is not going to be namby-pamby you can safely assume, when it comes to women!” 

I think we can safely assume that anything Gurinder puts her name to will not be ‘namby pamby’ as she put it. And that’s what makes her such an important British Asian figure and such a hugely influential person in her field. Her contribution to positively shaping how the world sees British Asians has been really important- think of how Bend It Like Beckham brought the richness of Asian family, community and tradition onto our screens 12 years ago.

I’ve no doubt that Desi Rascals will do the same for us, 10 or so years on. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to see this happen. In our current news climate, where sections of the Asian community take a constant battering, it’s really time we see something else of who our community are. And I’m hopeful Gurinder’s Desi Rascals will do this for us- and perhaps give us some really positive role models to boot.

‘Desi Rascals’ premieres on Tuesday 20 January at 8pm on Sky Living. Watch the trailer below

You might also like “Where do we look for positive British Asian role models?”

Muslims must respond to extremists in their midst

Since 9/11, the Muslim community have been distancing themselves from the actions of militant Islamist groups and terrorists. They are dismissed as isolated groups who are acting on their own agenda or own interpretation of Islam, and it is always claimed they are not representative of Islam.

It’s clear that today, there are several different interpretations of Islam amongst its own followers. There are moderate Muslims, Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace, militant Muslims, Jihadists… amongst others. All pray to Allah but all choose to focus on a different emphasis.

And likewise, there are any number of terrorist organisations and networks each acting in the name of Islam but addressing their own issue. Whether that’s Western education, British or US foreign policy or the war in Gaza…and probably more. We don’t know how many more there are. But it’s becoming obvious that this minority are creeping forward to become more than just a few.

Whilst the West needs to continue its response, it’s so vital that the Muslim community addresses where these radicalised individuals continue to come from- without saying they are nothing to do with Muslims or Islam. They are coming from within their ranks. The next generation of Muslims are watching wide-eyed as their religion and identity is being dragged through the mud by the likes of offensive cartoons. And the daily diet of news stories like the ongoing killing of Muslims in Gaza.  What’s causing young Muslim men and women to become radicalised? Are they simply disillusioned, disaffected individuals as the press like to say; or is it Israel’s treatment of Palestinians? Is it Britain and the US aligning themselves with Israel? How about the current backlash against extremism?

Are you really Charlie?

And let’s just talk for a moment about the current backlash- Western Europe’s response to last week’s attacks. There is a lot of blatant hypocrisy going on. Yes it is right and imperative to condemn the attacks. It was a brutal, positively barbaric and unnecessary act.

But declaring “Je Suis Charlie” was one step further. Really? You are a racist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic, (plus other labels- there are too many minority groups that they’ve offended) publication?

It started as support for freedom of speech. But in the eyes of many, consciously or not, this has been an aligning with Islamaphobia. Indeed today Medhi Hasan political director of the Huffington Post UK, himself a Muslim, said he didn’t want to ‘be’ Charlie- given what it stands for.

Sadly though, the terms have been set. Alliances have been drawn and it’s been like an open statement to the Muslim world: we are with Charlie.

How will Muslims respond?

We can only watch and see what the true cost of all this will be. Will this response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and France in its declaration that they are Charlie Hebdo, become another Israel- another perceived enemy of Islam and Muslims?

It’s important that the Muslim community don’t make it into one. The Muslim response at this time needs to be measured and carefully worded. They must deal carefully with vulnerable ears that are listening to an older generation, potentially speaking hatred towards Western Europe. The anti-Israel sentiment is already there. I don’t believe they can afford to further stoke those fires by adding another “enemy” of Islam.

4 Things British Asians should know about UKIP

Political issues series: 'Euro-sceptic' concept, with EU letteri

It’s fair to say there are not many who would simply dismiss UKIP as just “fruitcakes and loonies” any more as David Cameron once did. They are a serious political threat to the three main established parties. With their anti-immigration stance and perceived dislike of foreigners, their policies are of concern for Black and minority ethnic communities.

Here are some things to consider about the rise and rise of UKIP:

  1. They are going for the popularist vote

An overburdened NHS, more jobs for British people, student grants, even keeping GP surgeries open for longer, UKIP have simply identified the things that get us all riled up- and built a shopping list of policies around them.

Though they are yet to fully form the platform on which they will fight next year’s general election, in the past they were really known for a few key political issues, including seeing Britain withdraw from the EU and an end to “mass uncontrolled immigration.” The rest of their policies now seem to be simply picking up on our discontent over a range of socio-economic issues. This is partly why they have been criticised by the main political parties for having no real policies. And interestingly whilst they position themselves as returning to right wing policies, their stance on student grants is a typical left wing policy, showing that they swing from the political right to left to suit public opinion.

  1. Some immigrants support them

It’s completely counter-intuitive for someone who has benefited from the UK’s immigration laws to support a party who seeks to seriously curb immigration. And yet those supporters do exist.

UKIP wants all immigrants trying to enter the UK to be able to speak English, have NHS approved, private healthcare in place, and must have a job already in place. It would seem that they are looking to put as many restrictions in place as possible for foreigners to enter the UK. So why would ethnic minorities support their immigration policies?

One theory put forward is that new immigrants entering the UK would threaten the employment prospects of the existing migrant community. Another is the ‘little islander’ mentality: once you’re in, you want to keep others out who would tarnish the reputation of all immigrant communities as well as take jobs and housing and so on. Whatever the reason, don’t be fooled into thinking that UKIP supporters are all Tory, BNP and EDL defectors or any other right wing British people. It seems that UKIP supporters do come in all colours.

  1. They could usher in a whole new language

Do you remember in the 80’s when it was acceptable to call disabled people ‘spastics’? There were playground jokes about them, there was even a bona fide charity called the Spastics Society. (They have since changed their name to Scope). The term was discarded in the late 90’s as it was seen as unkind and not politically correct.

UKIP don’t believe in political correctness, arguing that it hinders freedom of speech. They are appealing to those who feel political correctness has gone mad. What does this mean for race relations? What language and terminology around Black and Asian people, women, the disabled, the gay community to name just a few minority groups will once again be acceptable under a UKIP government?

  1. The bigger threat is the growing number of UKIP supporters

While their policies are worrying, infuriating, perhaps even offensive to some, the bigger worry I believe is the growing amount of support that UKIP has garnered. I find it hard to believe that there are people I come into contact with every day that would support UKIP. But there are. The party’s appeal is growing, and aside from their grassroots supporters, many of these people are those who have either been swept up by their popularist approach to politics or a dissatisfaction with the main political parties. Whatever we might say about their shopping list of policies there’s no doubt that they’ve tapped into public feeling in our midst- and that worries me more than UKIP itself.

Is Priti Patel the token Asian in Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle?

So after David Cameron’s extensive cabinet reshuffle this week, which now includes six women sitting in or attending cabinet, the papers are awash with the argument that they were only appointed to fill his 2008 pledge to have a cabinet that was one third women by the time of the next election. Mission accomplished. Some are arguing that the appointment of these women is diminished by the notion that they are simply token female appointment’ rather than being appointed on the basis of merit.

Other media commentators are up in arms over the fact that a lot of today’s newpaper front pages have focussed on the outfits, accessories and overall appearance of these new female cabinet members. The infamous walk to 10 Downing Street for the morning meeting has been called a catwalk- rather than the serious stride we see from male MP’s who are clearly there to do business, natch, not look pretty. Dubbed ‘Cameron’s cuties’ (yuk- how disgustingly patronising and chauvinistic) it’s clear that the press are branding these women as cabinet eye candy.

Either way, if this new cabinet is all about appearances and filling quotas, what do you make of Priti Patel’s appointment as she joins the Treasury as Exchequer Secretary? Um, diversity quota anyone?

That seems a bit harsh but with all the cynicism surrounding Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle, it’s something I can’t help but ask. I’ve no doubt that her appointment is also strategic to some extent: the 42 year old Conservative MP for Witham is also Cameron’s India Diaspora Champion, a supporter of India’s Prime Minister Modi and a staunch supporter of UK-Indo relationships. She champions UK business opportunities in India, one of the world’s fastest growing markets; backs better trade links between the UK and India and has been working with the Prime Minister to boost UK exports to India. With India’s Prime Minister Modi said to be eager to increase trade globally, clearly Patel is well-placed to ensure the UK’s share of the pie, or in this case parantha.

David Cameron today tweeted that he wants “a team that reflects modern Britain and that can be everything modern Britain expects it to be”. If you take this reshuffle at face value, then it’s great for the British Asian community that the inclusion of a British Asian is seen to “reflect modern Britain” and is “something that modern Britain expects.” I for one am glad that there is a British Asian woman in David Cameron’s latest team. It’s one step further to the rest of us smashing that tinted glass ceiling.

 

 

 

Who in the Asian community will talk about child sex abuse?

First it was Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. Now as we’re all reeling from Rolf Harris’ conviction we learn that there’s be an investigation into an alleged paedophile ring in Parliament and judiciary where judges, MPs and peers will be investigated. The bad news- that any number of children have allegedly been sexually abused in the last few decades by the famous and powerful just keeps coming. Should we be shocked?

The 1970’s- “that post-Pill, pre- Aids era”, by all accounts, was a time of sexual freedom and promiscuity- for both men and women. The whole “Carry-On”, “How’s your father?” culture allowed people to get away with a lot: behaviour that today would not be tolerated and even considered sexually deviant. Society tolerated crude jokes (think: Barbara Windsor with her boobs out every five minutes in pretty much every Carry On film) We even thought of it as entertainment! It seems lines of conduct and acceptable behaviour were totally blurred. And sadly the idea that children were victims within that all- well back then no one talked about it, but it seems there were those who indulged in it.

As a mum, I just feel more and more disappointed at the thought that there could be so many abuse victims out there. Those who have had their dignity and innocence taken away and had to live with the quiet humiliation and shame ever since.

Shame. That’s something that the Asian culture majors on. The honour/shame culture is big in our community.  One of the issues that the Savile case brought to light was that victims were, at the time, too ashamed to speak out. They were afraid that no one would take them seriously or believe their allegations against a then big name TV personality. How much more then will victims of abuse in the Asian community not be able to speak out against the uncle, cousin or even father who abused them? Who in our community wants to bring shame on themselves and their family by saying they were abused? But it happens- abuse happens everywhere. It’s one thing when a public office is being investigated, but what about when it happens behind closed doors? In a community where falling in love with someone from the ‘wrong’ religion, race or community is considered shameful, how on earth do we then talk about behaviour that is truly shameful, like child sex abuse?

As I sit here and think about that, I’m at a loss as to how to answer it. All I know is that victims have the right to be listened to and taken seriously- without the fear of bringing shame. And what’s more, they have the right to move on with their lives without having to bear that shame forever.

 

Is there an Asian spornosexual man?

I don’t quite know what to make of the pictures of the TOWIE boys in half-thongs this week. (If you haven’t seen the pictures have a look– it’s bizarre). The banana-hammock thing is repulsive and the completely waxed bodies including pubic area- are they trying to look like 8 year old boys? I mean, what’s masculine let alone sexy about that?

Whatever the answer is to that, the half-thong wearing TOWIE boys Bobby and Harry are said to the very embodiment of the new spornosexual man.

In the 90’s Mark Simpson coined the term “metrosexual man”, the well-groomed, well-healed man who used moisturiser. Cue a generation of David Beckham wannabes. These men had grooming habits that were usually reserved for women or gay men. Fast forward 20 years and we’re talking about the second generation of metrosexual man, the spornosexual. He’s obsessed with sex and his body. He’s revealing a bit too much of his body and he wants you to know he’s a sexual object.

Ok so I’ve just got to ask: are we going to see a new generation of spornosexual Asian men too? Obviously mainstream trends cross over but when we’re talking about aspirations of body image, do Asian men aspire to their White counterparts? I know back in the 90’s, my brothers got into the whole metrosexual trend, heck one of them asked me to give him a manicure on his wedding day (sans polish you’ll be glad to know).

Today I do know of young Asian men in their late 20’s and 30’s- the younger brothers of friends of mine- who post pictures on Facebook of their six packs and pumped up biceps. One of them always puts up pictures of his ‘healthy dinner’ and tells us all how low calorie it is. Obsessing about their bodies, counting calories, that sounds pretty spornosexual to me- is this the beginning?

Just please God don’t ever post pictures of yourself in a half-thong because I WILL unfriend you….

 

 

Responding to the “British Values” debate

It worries me that today’s debate on British values comes off the back of an investigation into extremism in schools. What could, and should otherwise be a healthy discussion on what it means to be British, feels like it has some rather negative undertones.  It almost feels like a backlash, a knee-jerk response in the ongoing battle against extremism.

Following the investigation that uncovered alleged attempts to introduce extremist Islamist values into 21 Birmingham schools, Education Minister Michael Gove has announced that schools in England and Wales should be taught “British values”. Senior politicians have today been scrambling to define these values. Words like ‘tolerance’, ‘equality’, and ‘freedom’ have been bandied around. But these are fairly generic terms which are not just unique to Britain; and indeed much of the debate in the media today has asked: exactly what are these British values that our children are going to be taught?

So as Whitehall sets about defining what it means to be British, what I really want to know is what these new British values will mean to the British Asian community. Where does this debate- that stemmed from extremism- leave us? Are we to be included in this new definition?

Multiculturalism has got to be our get-out-of-jail -free-card. For years under the Blair-Brown Labour government, multiculturalism was the hot ticket that everyone talked about. But then in 2011, David Cameron famously said that multiculturalism had failed. In fact today’s discussion to me feels like a retreat from the much-talked about multiculturalism of the ‘90’s and ‘00’s.

As yet what defines these British values is still up for grabs. In terms of how British Asians should respond to this debate, for me the answer lies in a comment made by Michael Gove (which is not something I ever thought I’d say!) Mr Gove told the Commons: “One strength of the United Kingdom is that it has provided a safe and warm home for people of every faith over hundreds of years.”

As an immigrant family that came to Britain in the late 1970’s, we have for the most part lived a comfortable life here. Asians and many other ethnic minorities have been tolerated and included in British society. Yes we’ve experienced our share of racism but we continue to live and thrive here. I believe we need to ensure that all families and communities have that same opportunity- to settle, to work, to live. But integration is key.

We need to make a positive contribution to British society- not huddle away in ‘little- Indias’ and other ghetto-ised neighbourhoods. We must continue to show that we have something valuable to contribute to Britain, its economy and culture, and as such prove that we are indeed a part of the fabric of this country.

Yes, we need to be a part of this debate on British values. We as British Asians are a bona fide community in Britain and so let’s help shape this debate.