Sunday, 21 March 2010

Centre Parcs: re-think your prejudices

Our children are thrilled. We're now booked to spend Easter at Centre Parcs, the one at the 'Elveden Forest Village', Sufffolk.

Yes, I know, I know. But hey, we went a couple of years ago, holding our breath, and were very pleasantly surprised. We found that we were staying in a very comfortable 'lodge' in the woods, with a stream at the bottom of the patio and various woodland animals wandering around (eg. lots of ducks, swans, rabbits, deer, a heron and even a peacock!). The accomodation on the 400-acre site is set in woodland around a lake (photo above) and the 'village'. The idea is that you get around by bike (or stroll) down the no-cars pathways.

I have to admit that many parts of the (obviously, totally man-made) 'village' resemble and feel like an airport lounge, but the woodland, the lake, the outdoor activities and the tropical swimming pool are great. It may not be my first choice (and I'd only go because it's great with children; there's too many other places to explore) but it's not a bad UK option - I'll let you know how we got on. In the meantime, I came across this Guardian piece by someone who also changed her mind about Centre Parcs - I thinks she puts it well.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

An embarrassment of riches

You wait ages for a good British-Asian female writer/director to appear on the British cultural scene and then two come along at once.

Aswell as Bhatti's play Behud ('Beyond Belief') starting in London in April, Gurinder Chadha OBE's latest film, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, also opens here in April. Of course the origin of the artmaker does not matter other than the fact that you're bound to get more diverse material - I mean which non-British Asian is going to be writing about abuse in Sikh gurdwaras or ghostly goings-on in a Hounslow-based family?
 
Chadha's latest film tells the story of a British-Asian mother (Shabana Azmi) whose obsession with marrying off her daughter (Goldy Notay) has hilarious results. As the potential suitors meet their sticky ends, policemen Mark Addy (The Full Monty) and Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes) are brought in to investigate. Other actors include Jimi Mistry, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Zoe Wanamaker.

So the film is a comedy with some ghostly and afterlife themes. I like the way that the film poster (above) apes the style of the huge Bollywood hoardings and yet the film title is clearly a play on Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life - very fusion. Chadha, director of films such as ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ and ‘Bride and Prejudice’, has said that Wonderlife is a film "that in many ways takes me back to my warm intimate family values of Bend It Like Beckham. I shot in the same Indian-centric localities of London.” By that she's presumably referring to the areas around Hounslow, in the west London suburbs. Critics have said that the film delivers what is expected, with all the usual ingredients of a Chadha film - frankly, that sounds good to me.

If you'd like to attend, or watch online, a free event next week at which Gurinder Chadha will be speaking about her latest film, here are the details:

Date and Time:  Wednesday 24 March 201,  6pm-7.30pm
Location: Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 7NW
Admission: Free, booking necessary (at z.arabadji[at]gold.ac.uk to book a place)
Event name: the annual Olive Till Memorial Debate, organised by the Department of Media and Communications.  The event will be live-streamed at the link here.

It's a Wonderful Afterlife opens in the UK on 21 April.

The London premiere takes place at the Odeon West End, Leicester Square, on April 12; a 'regional premiere' on April 14 in Birmingham at Vue Star City.

Friday, 19 March 2010

London celebrates LGBT film while Bollywood's comes out with it's first gay screen kiss

I was reading about the intruiging BFI Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (17 to 31 March) which kicks off in London this weekend. One of the interesting things I learnt was that the first use of the word 'homosexual' in a English-language feature film was in 'Victim' - a 1961 film starring Dirk Bogarde - there is going to be an 'illustrated account of the creation and reception of one of the most important gay films ever made' tomorrow, Saturday at midday at the BFI.

It was with some irony that I read about this festival because I had not long before learnt about the expected impending furore over an Indian cinema film which is supposed to show Bollywood's first ever gay screen kiss.

Sanjay Sharma, the director, has made Dunno Y ... Na Jaane Kyun (Don't Know Why) which depicts a gay relationship in Mumbai. The release of the film, which some see as India's Brokeback Mountain, is due in May.  Sharma expects censors to pass the film for release after the repeal last year in India of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law against homosexuality - a law first framed under British rule that bracketed homosexuality with bestiality and paedophilia as crimes “against nature”, punishable by up to ten years in prison.
The decriminalisation of homosexuality is awaiting final approval by the Supreme Court, which is expected to be given after the Government backed the move last year.  The film is being released in English with subtitles, something which may make it more likely to avoid censorship.

The fuss about the kiss is a bit of sensationalism because I think that the really significant aspect of the film is the depiction of a gay relationship in a serious and genuine way. Up until now it has been common for gay characters in Indian cinema to be buffoons and the butts of jokes, e.g. recently Dostana ('friendship') and that's one of the more supposedly 'enlightened' ones.

The promotional posters (here, above-right) are quite risky for an Indian audience especially as public hetrosexual physicality is barely accepted. Yet Sharma believes that Indian audiences are ready. Y'know he might be on to something. I've often found it difficult to explain to non-Asians the primacy of male bonding and friendships. For example it is common in the streets of India to see hetrosexual (yeah, as far as we know, and they profess) men walking around hand-in-hand. I believe this also happens in some middle-eastern countries too.

In Indian film, in terms of the 'morality hierachy', male devotion to each other sits almost at the top of the tree (alongside mother-son love). For example, you are a true (male) friend if you sacrifice your (female) love object for your (male) best friend, even if you know she loves you rather than him. There are a number of 'love triangle' film narratives along these lines. Some wag has found a brilliant clip of a 1964 Indian film which supposedly shows Bollywood's 'real first gay kiss' (though not really because they are long-lost brothers) - just watch this - the kitchness of it all will make you cry....Rajendra Kumar and Dharmendra getting a little too emotional in Ayee Milan ki Bela.
 
So, enjoy the BFI festival and I hope that Dunno Y ... Na Jaane Kyun (Don't Know Why) passes the censors and has a sucessful run from May.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Bhatti returns with Behud

You might remember in 2004 a play by a young British-based Sikh playwright,Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, which was called off amidst protests by the Sikh community. Behzti (meaning 'dishonour/shame') included scenes of rape and violence in a 'gurdwara' (a Sikh place of worship) and was the subject of protests outside the Birmingham theatre were it had been playing.  The play became the work of art of the day to be used in the 'censorship versus free speech' debate much akin to the debate caused by Rushdie's Satanic Verses. And we look set to head that way again.

Bhatti has now penned her next  play, Behud ('beyond belief') which is a fictional examination of the whole Behzti affair. Good idea, in a inter-textual sort of way  - she is obviously a clever woman though she seems to have suffered a hard time since being targeted by zealots. I totally come down on the side of free speech (as long as it's not inciting violence against anyone of course, in which case you need to apply some boundaries) especially in a work of art depicting the little-talked about suffering of a group (ie. the subjects in the play who suffered the abuse) and deplored the mob displays by the hot-heads outside the theatre. You can read more about Bhatti and her new play in a Guardian piece which appeared last Monday, but for now she sounds defiant: 'I'm part of the community, and they're part of me. But I put myself in the firing line, and it looks as if that's where I'm staying."

Behud is at the Belgrade, Coventry (0247 655 3055), 27 March–10 April; then at the Soho Theatre, London (0207 478 0100), 13 April–8 May.

Also, on 17 & 26 April, 1 & 3 May at Soho Theatre there will be:
"A series of FREE talks and debates, exploring freedom of expression in British theatre today. A collaboration between Soho Theatre, leading magazine Index on Censorship, English PEN and Free Word, the UK’s first centre for literature, literacy and free expression. Speakers include: Lisa Goldman, Julia Farrington (Head of Arts & Events, Index on Censorship), Jonathan Heawood (Director, English PEN) and Shreela Ghosh (FreeWord)."

Monday, 15 March 2010

Edith's Streets of London

I've come across a curious yet strangely mesmerising blog recently. Just what is Edith's Streets? And who writes it? Or am I the only one who's not in on this?

The blog says that it "records notes about London (and Greater London) streets - what the buildings are, what the background is. These pages have been compiled over many years and from many sources - its not intended to copy from other people's work. Each post represents a square on the Ordnance Survey grid -hopefully I have included the references and got them right."

So far, the blog seems to have concentrated only on South-East London, covering, for example, parts of Eltham, Lewisham, Hither Green etc in great detail. The posts are full of fascinating facts and bits of history.   I'd be grateful for any light which anyone can shed on this blog.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Portraits and dreams of India

The Asian sub-continent seems en vogue in London town at the moment. There are two great exhibitions on at the moment:

The first is Where Three Dreams Cross, an already much-reviewed photographic exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery which shows India, Pakistan and Bangladesh through the lens of photographers over the past 150 years. The 300 works, by 70 artists and photographers, cover images from the infancy of photography in the 1860s to the present day. The images vary in their scale from key political moments to small snapshots of social realism. Some of the photographs really are striking. Click for Guardian and The Samosa reviews.

The exhibition runs from 21 January to 11 April 2010, at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London. 
Tickets £8.50/£6.50 concessions. Free for under 18s & Sundays 11am–1pm.
 

The second exhibition is being billed as the first ever exhibition devoted to Indian Portraits. In the National Portrait Gallery's own words:

"This outstanding exhibition, the first of its kind in the UK, tells the story of the Indian portrait over three centuries, exploring the fascinating ways in which Indian artists have approached the depiction of the human form and the changing role of portraiture in Indian history. Bringing together 60 stunning works from international collections, the exhibition will celebrate the beauty, power and humanity of these works of art.

The exhibition begins with works from the Mughal Court, including some of the earliest realistic portraits made for the Emperors Humayun (r.1530–56) and Akbar (r.1556–1605) and the magnificent court portraits made for their successors Jahangir (r.1605–27) and Shah Jahan (r.1628–58), as well as studies of Mughal courtiers, holy men and servants. The distinctive regional styles from Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills are also shown alongside the European–influenced works produced by Indian artists under British rule."

The exhibition runs from 11 March – 20 June 2010, at the National Portrait Gallery in central London. Admission free.

Monday, 8 March 2010

What would you ask Nick Griffin?

And finally tonight...I couldn't help but be interested in the news that Iain Dale is to interview Nick Griffin tomorrow (well, probably today now). Dale has done this piece inviting people to suggest what he should ask Griffin. I rather liked this contributor ('David')'s comment (at March 07, 2010 8:51 pm):

"In the BNP's general election manifesto for 2005 - hidden away in the "environment" section - was the following:
"We will end immigration to the UK and reduce our land's population burden by creating firm but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home."
I am amazed how few fellow journalists pick up the BNP on this point.
What is "firm"? Where is "home"?
Does this include the likes of Amir Khan, Magdi Yakoub, Dame Kelly Holmes, etc?"

Update: this has all blown up of course and rightly become the subject of a 'no platform' vs 'they're democratically-elected'  debate at Though Cowards Flinch amongst other places. In this case, I do veer towards 'no platform'.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Be a Local Tourist in Greenwich

A quick mention for those interested in Greenwich and its surrounding areas - cultural venues will soon be offering special discounts and promotions for nine days.

Greenwich Council tells us:

"From Saturday 20 March to Sunday 28 March 2010, a host of popular Greenwich attractions, cultural venues and restaurants are throwing open their doors and offering special discounts and promotions to local people.

The Council has teamed up with participating venues in Eltham, Greenwich and Woolwich to run events across the borough."

The Be A Local Tourist event is designed to get residents out and about taking advantage of the area's culture.

Residents must show copies of the event leaflet when entering their chosen venues. These can be found in libraries, leisure centres, participating venues and the tourist information centre. Non-residents are also welcome to take part in local events and special offers.

Some of the highlights listed by the Council include:

* 50% off entry to the Art Deco Eltham Palace
* Sample all 11 brews from local brewery Meantime at a free talk and tasting session at Well Hall Pleasaunce on Wednesday 24 March
* Live music and international stalls at the Festival of Food at Passey Place on Sunday 28 March
* 2-for-1 tickets at London's Peter Harrison Planetarium
* 2-for-1 tickets for Volpone and The Duchess of Malfi at Greenwich Theatre
* 2-for-1 entry to The Fan Museum’s latest exhibition
* 2-for-1 River Roamer tickets on Thames Clippers
* Lunch and dinner at special rates at many of Greenwich’s restaurants including CafĂ© Rouge, Novotel's Elements Restaurant, Devonport House's restaurant.
* Comedy at Comedy on the Common with a special offer of two tickets for £10
* 2-for-1 entry to the Thames Barrier Information Centre.

For a full list of venues and further details, visit greenwich.gov.uk/Greenwich/LeisureCulture/News/Be-A-Local-Tourist

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Tongues of Fire: London Asian Film Festival, March 2010

The 12th London Asian Film Festival starts this Friday, 5 March running through to 14 March. Known as the 'Tongues on Fire' festival, it aims to highlight indepdendent Asian cinema and has a focus on women. As I wrote last year, the festival manages to put together a great collection of films and guests around London and yet it is strangely under-advertised.

The festival has a great balance this year between 'Bollywood' (going big on the Bachchan family), middle-art cinema in Shyam Bengal, and some British-Asian cinema ('Life Goes On', 'Cash and Curry'). Here's just a taste of what's on:

Friday 5 March - BAFTA - "A BAFTA INTERVIEW" with ABHISHEK BACHCHAN
18:15 Reception
18:45 interview

Saturday 6 March - ACTING MASTERCLASS
11:30 Masterclass with Abhishek Bachchan
14:00 Guru screening  (at Apollo, Piccadilly Circus)

Sunday 7 March - CELEBRATING SPORTS THROUGH FILMS
13:00 Reception
14:00 Chak de India screening (at Rich Mix, London E1)

BAFTA - "A BAFTA INTERVIEW" with SHYAM BENEGAL
18:00 Reception
18:30 Interview
20:30 Well Done Abba screening
(Exclusive to TOF and BAFTA members - how annoying....)

Monday 8 March - DIRECTOR'S WORKSHOP
10:30 Bhumika screening
14:00 Workshop with Shyam Benegal (at University of Westminster)

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
14:30 Kora Kagaz screening
16:45 Q&A with Jaya Bachchan
17:45 'High-Tea in the presence of Jaya Bachchan' (sic)
18:30 Shyam Benegal Talk - Women in Films (all at the Nehru Centre, London W1)

Tuesday 9 March - JAYA BACHCHAN'S RETROSPECTIVE
18:30 Guddi  (at the Nehru Centre, London W1)

Wednesday 10 March
18:30 Abhimaan  (at the Nehru Centre, London W1)

Saturday 13 March
SCREENINGS
14:00 Cash and Curry (just got to see this...)
20:45 Lovesongs + Introduction by director (both at Watermans Cinema)

Sunday 14 March
CLOSING GALA PREMIERE16:00 Life Goes On - Premiere
18:00 Q&A and Reception with stars + director (at Apollo, Piccadilly Circus)

See the Festival website for more details, other events.which are part of this festival and for details about how to book. Let me know what you thought if you go to see anything here.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Axe hovers over BBC's Asian Network

If you're British-Asian and interested in representation and the media then the big news over the last couple of days has been the BBC proposals to drop their 'niche' digital radio station, the BBC Asian Network. The proposals, which are part of cost-cutting and re-focussing measures, also propose the closure of BBC 6 Music and large chunks of BBC online.

Critics of the proposals say that the BBC is bowing too far to commercial competitors complaining about unfair advantage. One competitor of the Asian Network, Avtar Lit and his Sunrise Radio group, would certainly be very pleased to see it's only decent competition disappear.

Since the news first leaked out last Friday, the critics of the proposals have been growing. And now, as is customary, the obligatory Facebook and Twitter campaigns have been launched, with thousands signed-up already. I've signed up for the Asian Network station to be saved because I think it does provide a unique service, and I'd urge you to sign up too. Btw, 38degrees.org.uk also have a growing online petition here. An Early Day Motion was also going to be raised in parliament today by Tom Watson MP.

Co-incidently I happened to be speaking to someone today who has been very close to the BBC action until very recently - he asked me 'where is the British-Asian outraged response?' suggesting that some account might be taken of it.  And indeed, I was interested to read this at the Guardian site a few moment ago: "
[P]lanned cuts could be rethought if there is evidence of 'massive public concern', says BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons". So it's important you make yourself heard - now.