Monday, 6 February 2023

Mubi Monday: Bhaji On The Beach (1993)

The full feature debut of director Gurinder Chadha, and the first feature screenplay from the talented Meera Syal, Bhaji On The Beach is an entertaining and insightful look at the lives of a variety of British Asian women in the 1990s. Although things are exaggerated for cinematic effect, it's somehow a film that feels extra poignant when viewed three decades after it was first released, considering how many moments feel as if they could be filmed in exactly the same way today.

A group of women are taking a trip to Blackpool. They are of various ages, which means that they also hold various attitudes about their expectations and perceived responsibilities, but they may eventually realise that they still have a lot in common. Although no member of the group is completely neglected by the script/direction, the focus moves between three of the women who are going through the biggest struggles. There's Asha (Lalita Ahmed), a woman who allows herself frequent Bollywood-esque daydreams to escape what she views as the drudgery of her every day life. Hashida (Sarita Khajuria) has just found out that she is pregnant, but she hasn't even told her family about the boy she has been seeing for the past year. Last, but not least, is Ginder (Kim Vithana), who has caused quite a stir by seeking a divorce from her husband, Ranjit (Jimmi Harkishin). Desperate to save face, and possibly take back his son, Ranjit heads to Blackpool with his brothers alongside him. It soon becomes clear that Ginder could be in danger is she's caught while enjoying her new-found freedom. 

There are no original plot elements here, not when you think of what is at the heart of every issue, but I can think of few films that mix all of these things together so well. It also helps that viewers are being shown this through the filter of the British Asian experience, which helps it to stand out from the crowd, and marks it out as a forerunner to a few other movies that would try to convey that specific “culture clash” (some also directed by Chadha) in an insightful and crowd-pleasing way.

Filling the film with believable dialogue throughout, it’s clear that Syal has pulled together a lot of what she knows for the screenplay. The authenticity helps the cast to feel perfectly-suited to each role, and Chadha does an excellent job of either adding to the weight of certain scenes or managing to lighten things up enough to save viewers from being overwhelmed. An Indian-language cover of Summer Holiday also raises a smile, so big congratulations to the person who picked that for the soundtrack.

Everyone does a great job onscreen, but the very best moments involve either Ahmed or Vithana, both playing women who yearn for escape in different ways. Khajuria is okay, and Mo Sesay does a good job of being her confused and “secret” boyfriend. Harkishin plays the villain of the piece, dealing with his two brothers like an angel on one shoulder and devil on the other, and he deserves praise for giving his all to a role that paints him in the worst possible light.

Bhaji On The Beach has so much to say - about race, about misogyny, about pressure from families, and much more - that it should feel overcrowded and overwrought. The fact that it doesn’t is testament to the skills of everyone involved, but particular praise needs to go to Chadha and Syal, who worked together on a debut feature that remains a highlight in both of their careers.


If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of -
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form -

No comments:

Post a Comment