INTERVIEW: "My Son, the Fanatic," Udayan Prasad's Portrait of Family and Fundamentalism
by Anthony Kaufman
Based on a short story by novelist Hanif Kureishi (“My Beautiful Laundrette,” “The Buddha of Suburbia“), “My Son, the Fanatic” takes issues of family and fundamentalism and turns them upside down. Instead of son rebelling against father, “Fanatic” finds middle-aged cab driver Parvez, a likeable Pakistani immigrant with a taste for American jazz, estranged from his religious zealot son and falling in love with a local prostitute. Starring acclaimed Indian actor Om Puri (with over 100 films to his credit) and Oscar nominee Rachel Griffiths (“Hilary & Jackie“), “My Son, the Fanatic” is director Udayan Prasad’s first visit to North America, and with the helping hand of Miramax, it’s a notable arrival.
Having worked steadily for British television, (“Femme Fatale,” “Running Late,” “102 Boulevard Haussmann“), Prasad turned to the theatrical arena with 1996’s “Brothers in Trouble” and now “My Son, the Fanatic.” Told exclusively though Parvez’s point of view, Prasad penetrated the mind of his protagonist and externalized every emotion into the texture of the film, from lighting and composition to costume and make-up. Prasad spoke to indieWIRE about this very specific attention to detail and filmmaking in the Indian community, in Britain, India and abroad.
indieWIRE: Om Puri is appealing in this film. At Cannes, he was in another Indian-themed Miramax film called “East is East” where he plays this monstrous, fundamentalist father. In your film, he’s just this ordinary guy we can relate to. . .
Udayan Prasad: I think that was really important, because what always appealed to me about the story was that it touched on global issues. The whole business of fundamentalism is absolutely everywhere. In the United States, it’s Christian fundamentalists, in other parts of the world, it’s different religions. And we’ve all heard about Islamic fundamentalism. But what I really liked was that Hanif [Kureishi] was telling this story through a life of an ordinary, humble man, a cabbie. And it’s done in such a way that anyone can engage in this story. That’s why I think the movie works.
iW: And I read the movie was pretty much built around his point-of-view in every aspect of the filmmaking?
Prasad: Well, it is his story. It is his sort of helter skelter, roller coaster ride to self-discovery. Where there were certain aspects of his character that he hadn’t realized about his life, his family, to his son and discovering he could have feelings for a woman who was not only not part of his family, but was a prostitute — someone absolutely on the fringes of society who is normally considered the worst of the worst. So it clearly had been written from his point of view, so it made sense to take that as far as we could. Because there’s not a single scene in the script, or in the film, in which Om Puri is not there. If it’s his point of view, we want to feel what this guy feels, we want to see the world through his eyes and engage with his emotions as much as possible. So I thought we should bear that in mind when shooting the movie, when costuming the movie, when putting on makeup or designing the sets and so on. . .
That’s why I particularly went after this idea around the color of red. One of the main things the film was about was how you can feel love for people in unexpected places. So I thought, the one great love of his life, certainly in the past, was his wife, but over the years, that love has withered, probably through neglect, rather than any deliberate sense. So we started the wife character as red as she could be — it’s not a vibrant color anymore — and over the course of the film, we reduced the vibrancy of that red. So it became brown by the end, the color of dried blood, I could say. And when we meet Bettina, she’s only wearing some red gloves and than as his feelings for her grew, we increased the red on her until they consummate their affair when the whole screen goes to red. I don’t want audiences to see this, I want them to feel it.
iW: I don’t remember it, it’s all sort of sub-conscious, I think.
Prasad: Film certainly works on a sub-conscious level. There are some filmmakers who want to draw attention to technique, in this case, I was making a film where I didn’t want to draw attention to technique; I wanted to engage with people emotionally only.
iW: And yet the film is photographed quite beautifully. As opposed to some of the other British filmmakers we see — that gritty v