Sunday 24 January 2010

Little Mosque on the Prairie but not in the UK

How is it that I've only recently tripped across the existence of this series on Canadian television when it touches on so many of the social and cultural issues of today? Little Mosque on the Prairie is a sit-com on CBC television about a muslim community in a small prarie town in the fictional town of Mercy, Saskatchewan. 

Little Mosque depicts interactions between Mercy's muslim and non-muslim people but also has storylines set within the communities - so it is able to cover themes of multicultural living, small town folk, fish-out-of-water angles, liberal vs devout muslims and it has plenty of terrorism and jihad references. Despite the particular muslim angle, I think the programme has a universal appeal. I can't think of anything like this on British television despite the UK size of, and current interest in, muslim society.  

Incredibly, the comedy drama, which began in 2007, is in its fourth series in Canada and has had record ratings. So why hasn't the series reached the UK despite going abroad to other countries? I wonder if the answer lies in British TV becoming too risk-averse to feature such material? That is certainly the view of Jon Plowman, a former head of BBC comedy. Of Little Mosque on the Prairie he says, "I don't think anybody would write that now in Britain because they'd worry that the BBC, or indeed any broadcaster, wouldn't make it," he adds.You'll have to watch the show to see what he means - here's a link to the very first episode.

Monday 18 January 2010

Land Gold Women: a film about 'honour' killing

News has been bubbling about a debut film by a young female director which is set in Birmingham, UK. Land Gold Women is about a so-called 'honour' killing in a British-Asian setting.

Writer and director Avantika Hari, still only in her twenties, wanted to make a film which explored exactly why a relative would murder one of their own female relatives. But this is not a film about an uneducated and unassimilated family - the father concerned is a university professor. The film has been doing the festival circuit - in December 2009 it won the Foreign Correspondent Association’s Purple Orchid Award for ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Script/Screenplay’ at the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore. (picture above courtesy Rewired PR)

Although produced by Bollywood's Vivek Agrawal, it's a small budget 'indie' film, in English and Urdu, shot in and around Birmingham. Writer/Director Avantika Hari worked closely with the Ashram Housing Association, an organisation which deals many cases of forced marriage every year. The cast are mostly British-Asian actors with Narinder Samra in the lead female role - you can hear her and others interviewed in this BBC clip. (Samra and the male lead in picture below).

The Land Gold and Women in the film's title refer to the elements in which 'honour' or 'izzat' are typically invested in such patriachal societies where these horrible events occur. It sounds to me like an especially timely film given the verdict last month on the horrifying case of the murder of Tulay Goren, a young Kurdish woman in the UK murdered by her own father for falling love with the wrong type of man as far as the family's men were concerned - the BBC reports on the case here.

Although such murders are thankfully rare, most women from such societies, including let's be honest many British-Asian women will know all about how their behaviour, dress and views are seen as reflecting on their family, to whatever degree. It's an element of Indian society that frankly used to cause me a lot of frustration - I felt it clipped the wings of so many young women while their brothers roamed free. So the film should be interesting...

Unfortunately I haven't heard about a UK distribution - the film had its (presumably one-off) UK premiere in February 2009 at Cineworld in Birmingham. More information here.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Jihad! The Musical: satire or offence?

Here we go again with another play which aims to satirise but has been accused of giving offence.

'Jihad! The Musical’ started off life as a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2007 and now has its London premiere. Telling the story of a young Afghan flower seller who unwittingly joins a terrorist sleeper cell, it's a provocative send-up of the stereotyped media-hype surrounding the 'war on terror'. You can just see the laughs in that can't you?

The show has big musical numbers called 'When We’re Martyrs', 'Building a Bomb Today', 'The Jihad Jive', as well as 'I Wanna Be Like Osama', which apparently became a YouTube sensation in 2007, viewed more than 370,000 times.   

With such satire, the challenge is, of course, to make the satircal intent sufficiently clear. If the satircial aim isn't clear then you risk the material being used by bigots and racists to endorse their views. Isn't this where the 1970s BBC comedy 'Till Death Do Us Part' went wrong in some respects, however unintentionally. Though it was a very successful show, and perhaps because of that, it was never a good day for us brown kids in the school playground the day after that show was broadcast. On the other hand, there's an artistic balance to be struck - as writer or director you presumably don't want to end up with an equal opportunities educational piece either.

However it remains that while seeking to send up ethnic stereotypes, such performances can end up perpetuating them - that was also an accusation levelled at This is England, a controversial play performed last year at London's National Theatre which I wrote about at the time.

I haven't seen this play yet so I can't judge it precisely. Certainly the critics haven't been altogether kind (The Guardian and Telegraph reviews). I can actually see the potential for satire around this topic - perhaps something in the way that Omid Djalili sent up some similar material in his BBC televised one-man shows. I'm all for getting these issues out in the open but in any civilised society surely we need to do them sensitively. Let me know what you think if you see this production.

'Jihad! The Musical’ is at Jermyn Street Theatre,16b Jermyn St, Piccadilly, London SW1 (020 7287 2875) since 8 Jan until 6 Feb.

Friday 15 January 2010

RIP Teddy Pendergrass

Really sad news about a great singer.  Teddy Pendergrass, who passed away this week aged 59, was the first black male singer to record five consecutive multi-platinum albums in the US. In his later life he did much work for charity. In homage to his unique styling, Pendergrass was also one of the inspirations for UK comedian Lenny Henry's Theophilus P.Wildebeeste character.

Here's one of my favourite Teddy Pendergrass songs.

Friday 8 January 2010

1984: A Sikh Story

If you want to know more about Sikhs and what significant event happened for them in 1984, you might be interested in this documentary on Sunday on BBC1. The hour-long documentary apparently stirs up some controversy because of its portrayal of militant Sikh preacher Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. But it all centres around the personal journey of long-time BBC presenter Sonia Deol as she rediscovers her sikh background. The BBC blurb tells us:

"Just over 25 years ago, the storming of The Golden Temple, the most sacred of Sikh shrines, by the Indian Army led to protests around the world. Sonia Deol embarks on a personal journey to unravel the events of 1984, an iconic year for Sikhs. It culminated in thousands of deaths including the assassination of the Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi. The bloody aftermath that followed so shocks Sonia that she is forced to reappraise the depth of her commitment to her faith." You can read the rest here.

1984: A Sikh Story
Sunday 10 January at 10:55pm on BBC One

Wednesday 6 January 2010

More snow, another leadership challenge and an ex--bishop speaks

Oh my it's all happening today. Once again south-east London is under snow. Eltham pic to the right here (before it really came down some more). Southeastern trains have caused much outrage with their 'reduced timetable'. It took my husband two hours to get to London Bridge Station. I didn't try and worked from home - I can't afford to take two unexpected hours getting anywhere when I absolutely have to be here on the dot to pick up children from school.

During the afternoon news trickled through of the incredible Hoon and Hewitt attack on the Labour leadership - what were they thinking of? Mandelson was very cool though on Newsnight I thought.

Then Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, decided to pipe up and talk about the want of Christian values amongst future immigrants. Samira Shackle does a good job of elegantly questioning that one.

Let's hope tomorrow is quieter and we can all get in to work.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Greenwich Borough to become Royal in 2012

The London Borough of Greenwich is to become a 'Royal Borough' in 2012, it's just been announced today.

Though I'm not a royalist (far from it), I'm glad of any recognition of the many historical significances within the Borough. I'd also be glad of any benefits this would bring to the area in which we live, though I've yet to find out what they are - can anyone tell me?

The Greenwich Council website reports the news thus:

"Her Majesty the Queen has bestowed the status of Royal Borough upon Greenwich, to take effect in the year of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

The rare honour of Royal Borough status was confirmed on Tuesday 5 January in the House of Lords by Lord Mandelson, President of the Privy Council.

The honour is bestowed in recognition of the close links between Greenwich and Royalty, from the Middle Ages to the present day. It also acknowledges the borough’s global significance as home of the Prime Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are at present three Royal Boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston, and Windsor and Maidenhead. They all reflect longstanding Royal associations."

Monday 4 January 2010

Indian Winter on Channel 4

I was interested to see that Channel 4 are having an 'Indian Winter' season. A mix of film, documentary and features, it begins with a TV premiere showing of the film Slumdog Millionnaire (on 13 January, 9pm), Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning blockbuster. How on earth it was billed as a 'feel-good' film at the time of its original cinema release I'll never know - I could hardly stop blubbing for the first 40 minutes or so.

The season also includes Gordon Ramsey and Kevin McCloud in their own programmes from India, as well as some Bollywood big-hitting films such as Rang De Basanti (14 January, 01.15), Jodha Akhbar (18 January, 00.15), and Om Shanti Om. Typically though, the screening times continue to assume that Bollywood fans are also insomniacs.

Nice though it is, I'm not sure why Channel 4 have chosen to focus on India and in a 'winter season' (anyone see this explained anywhere?) other than tryng to cram in as many 'slumdog' references as possible in their programme titles e.g. Slumdog Secret Millionaire, Slumdog Children of Mumbai and Slumming It all feature in this season.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Farewell 2009 - Happy New Year 2010

Happy new year to everyone.

I've enjoyed being cloistered away for the last week or so with my family and lots of Christmas kitsch - from the latter, there was no escape, you've just got to give in to it, really.

We emerged to celebrate new year's eve at the site where the Millenium symbolically began for the UK ten years ago  - yes, the dreaded Millenenium Dome, or the O2 as it is now known, in Greenwich, south-east London (well, it was bitter, grey and drizzly and there's little else to do indoors with two little young ones, and so we worshipped at this plastic neon palace).

Unfortunately, the film chosen at the O2's Vue cinema to continue the feel-good Christmas atmosphere turned out to be a little darker than the jollier, slap-stick trailers had led us to believe. Disney's A Christmas Carol was undoubtedly a technical and visual triumph but rather too dark and wordy for this occasion. For once, Disney had dished up a film faithful to the orginal novel rather than the usual frothy 'family fun' version required. The Huffington Post's review gets it just right. The children clung closely to us. Ho hum.  After a spot of lunch we visited the O2's indoor 'German market' and 'Christmas Fair' which cheered the children up - bumper cars and helter-skelters tend to do that.

On New Year's Day itself, a sunny cheery day, we set off, as has become the family tradition, for our walk around Greenwich Park. Happily we were joined by my friend L, visiting from New Zealand. The park looked beautiful and was the perfect place to be on the first hope-filled day of the new year. This photo is a view from the highest point looking northwards, with the National Maritime Museum in the foreground, the river Thames behind it, and beyond that glistening in the sun the Canary Wharf development. There were lots of warmly-wrapped people about taking in the views and the fresh crisp air.

We ambled down the steep pathway to central Greenwich and to a warming lunch at the Cafe Rouge next to the Ibis Hotel. St Alfege's Church, on Greenwich Church Street, looked stunning - when I see it I always think of my parents-in-law getting married here many decades ago on such a historical site where a church has stood since 1012. 

A walk back to the car parked at the top of Greewich Park took us past the Royal Observatory (right) as the sun set to the west.

It had been a good day. Let's hope the coming year will be just as good.