The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘I’ flexes muscles to take on skinheads
- Bollywood to bust happy-NRI myth

They are either rich or funny, or both. They live in castles, wear heavy silks, worry their heads off over the preservation of their daughters’ assumed virginity, but everything culminates happily in one grand climax of a raucous marriage ceremony, drunken aunts and bhangra.

But the myth of the happy NRI of Hindi cinema may be shortlived. With a Hindi film like I — Proud to be Indian in the pipeline, even the Bollywood potboiler seems to have woken up to the dark other side of the expatriate experience.

I — Proud to be Indian, starring Salman Khan’s brother Sohail Khan and directed by Puneet Sira, may sound like another jingoistic outburst from the Sunny Deol school of films, but it is not. It is about the racial discrimination that Asians are still subject to out there.

The protagonist, I — he is never named — arrives in London’s East End, rather reluctantly with his father Kulbhushan Kharbanda and finds that Asians — middle- and lower- income groups — do not live happily ever after.

There, he comes upon a kind of people whom he doesn’t understand initially. He realises that they are the latest avatar of skinheads, who came into their own in the eighties with the conviction that the world is a place for the whites and the non-whites should be wiped out.

But I, true to the character of the Hindi film hero that he is, takes umbrage and stands up against the neo-Nazis, with the help of a script that is high on drama and punctuated with songs.

“It’s time movies talked about it,” says Sira, who grew up in East End himself and faced skinhead violence directly.

The skinheads are not as much in the forefront today, he acknowledges, but their influence works more subtly and possibly in a bigger domain, he feels.

“They have representatives in parties who hold official posts in the UK and they are better connected through the Net,” says Sira, who has made films for Channel 4 in the UK and worked with Channel V here.

“The Asian is at the receiving end of racism. But the average Asian doesn’t speak up out of fear. He believes that he has come to work and doesn’t want to call police. He is scared that if he complains he may be deported,” says the director, who saw skinheads burning down houses in his neighbourhood. The windowpanes of his house were painted with the words “Go back to your country!”

Recently, it was the 10th death anniversary of a black youth murdered brutally by the skinheads.

It was Sohail who approached him with the idea. “I am in touch with so many Indians abroad who live a hand-to-mouth existence and in fear. They are scared to raise their voice,” the actor says.

But I does. Hopefully he wins.

The film, which was shot entirely in the UK in 30 days, will be released on January 26. Although there are many British actors and chunks of the film are in English, it is primarily a Hindi movie, says Sira.

“It is for an Indian audience, many of whom will connect with the story,” says the director.

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