I BLOW HOT and cold with Hanif Kureishi. Sometimes he's so self-indulgent, self-referential and over the top, I want to leave his work with all the odd socks at the back of the nearest beautiful launderette. But in "My Son the Fanatic," which he adapted from his short story, he's got a great, seriocomic spin cycle going.
"Fanatic," directed by Udayan Prasad, rings very familiar, in terms of the Kureishi themes. I refer to his mining and remining of the Asian diaspora in England, usually depicted as the old world values of the immigrant parents versus the capitalistic, anti-cultural impulses of their British-born children.
But Kureishi turns things deliberately upside down. This time, twentysomething Farid (Akbar Kurtha), who talks with an accent that mixes Pakistan with Midlands England, is the one holding the old world beacon. It's his middle-aged father, Parvez (Om Puri), who needs the cultural wake-up call.
Parvez has been running a taxi for 25 years. An inattentive student in his youth, he held no special reverence for Islam. Emigrating to England, as he explains it, "I said hello to work."
Work for Parvez means transporting anyone -- including hookers -- to their destinations. End of story. No moral judgment. Live and let live.
He has become friends with Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), a working girl with the proverbial heart of gold. But Parvez is the only one who can see that spiritual ore. Their bond becomes the only thing that keeps him going.
He's going to need all the camaraderie he can get -- in terms of the hailstorm he's about to receive: Farid, who has just broken off his engagement to an English girl, has finally heard the call of Islam.
What I like about Kureishi, apart from his shameless zeal for twitting both cultures, is the way everyone comes up great and short.
Parvez can be seen as a sort of Stepin Fetchit, toadying up to Englishmen who find him disgusting, while affecting some of the snooty ways of his bourgeois oppressors. But he's also the voice of individualistic reason. He's allergic to extremism and sanctimonious judgment. And he stands up for Bettina in the face of extreme opposition from his own family and devout Islamics.
Farid, a sweet-hearted boy, is made to look amusingly superficial, as he listens to devotional tapes in a crash course bid to achieve sudden cultural purity. And the holy man he invites to stay at his home for profound instruction is shown giggling at a juvenile TV cartoon.
But Farid truly believes in his faith and he's prepared to go all the way to prove it, even if it means attacking prostitutes on the street.
Although the themes are a little overworked, and the finale seems a little too pat, the movie is very satisfying. Puri's performance is spectacular, as he takes you on a unique character journey. By the end of this movie, you feel a presence that stays with you long afterward. But he's just the central character in Kureishi's absorbing world -- one that you feel privileged and fascinated to experience for yourself.
MY SON THE FANATIC (R, 87 minutes) -- Contains nudity, strong language and sexual scenes. At the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle 3.