This theatrical adaptation of a ninety-seven-minute motion picture from the mid-Eighties takes just over two hours to tell essentially the same story sixty-five minutes in the first half, sixty in the second.
Many of the same lines are delivered with more or less the same delivery as in the film a generation ago, but not all the narrative elements have aged well. As it happens, the film does a better job in places at providing details — for instance, when Rachel Cathy Tyson reveals injuries to her person that she has sustained, how it supposedly came about is a lot clearer on screen. Here, sympathy is invoked, quite naturally, but the background story behind it is glossed over.
My Beautiful Launderette - Exeunt Magazine
Both Warnecke and Kammy Darweish — the latter playing Nasser, a business tycoon — were the stand-out performances for me. Seventeen songs appear throughout the show, recorded for the production by the Pet Shop Boys, though most of these are fillers whilst scene changes are going on. I suppose it depends if one enjoys their styles of music or not — for me, there was a distinct Eighties sound, even amongst the eight songs written in that is, for this production. They drank and they gossiped. The women would come and go.
In the film, the characters drink, some have bohemian sensibilities, and others are successful entrepreneurs. This depiction of Pakistani immigrants as Thatcher-loving capitalists was not universally welcomed. In truth, most British Asians would not have seen the film—they were more likely to be watching the Bollywood movies that Channel 4 broadcast at weekends, movies that offered easy escapism, singing and dancing, and no interracial sex. Nevertheless, for many of those South Asians who were curious enough to look beyond Bollywood and did find this film, it proved to be hugely influential and inspiring.
It is now thirty years since My Beautiful Laundrette was released. The Britain of feels very different from the one depicted in the film.
It is a country that is far more comfortable in its skin—whatever the color—than it did. In the eighties, most of those whose heritage was South Asian identified themselves simply as Asian. Today, young men and women whose ancestors are from Pakistan are more likely to refer to themselves as Muslims than British Pakistanis.
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My Beautiful Laundrette belongs to a more innocent age—a time when saying one was Pakistani was not synonymous with being radical and dangerously religious. It also belongs to an age when there were very few actors or writers of Pakistani heritage; My Beautiful Laundrette was a film about Pakistanis, and yet none of the key figures who created it or appear in it are fully Pakistani: Kureishi, as already noted, is of mixed race; Warnecke is of Indo-Guyanese and German descent; many of the other actors are of Indian heritage.
At the time, there were so few opportunities for Asian actors that trying to find a genuinely Pakistani actor to play Omar would probably have been impossible.
Today that is not the case, and that is in part a tribute to this film. The long-running BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me —whose cast were all South Asian—also owed a debt to My Beautiful Laundrette, as, in truth, does pretty much every British Asian filmmaker, comedian, and writer, including myself. Boasting the longest, most versatile career of any Czechoslovak New Waver, the late master made films mixed with deep compassion and an antiauthoritarian spirit. By Peter Cowie. By Andrew Chan.
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