Bhaji on the Beach

By Goldberg, Shirley | Canadian Dimension, April-May 1995 | Go to article overview
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Bhaji on the Beach

Goldberg, Shirley, Canadian Dimension

One day holiday from patriarchy becomes a journey of self-discovery for nine Asian women in Gurinder Chadha's fresh and entertaining first feature, Bhaji On The Beach.

Chadha, who lives in England, emerges from the creative chaos of the Indian diaspora like many literary and cinematic stars of our time - including two other women directors, Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) in the US and Deepa Mehta (Sam and Me) in Canada.

For these artists, displacement has forced new configurations, new angles, new insights on old problems. Nothing is simple any more. Cultures collide and multiplicity reigns. Chadha skillfully interweaves the issues of women, marginality, and multiculturalism. This pluralism converts into energy and opportunity. As Salman Rushdie notes optimistically in Satanic Verses: "When you throw everything up in the air, anything becomes possible."

Before Chadha's women leave the dreary industrial city of Birmingham bound for the tawdry charm of Blackpool and its cold beach, the bright, liberated, young coordinator from the Saheli Asian Women's Centre (dressed in a leather jacket over colourful traditional garb) has a message for them. Like a spunky cheerleader, she urges: "It's not often that we women get away from the patriarchal demands made on us in our daily lives, struggling between the double yoke of race and sexism that we bear. This is your day! Have a female fun time!"

The older women exchange questioning glances. But, as the disclosures of the day mount up, their oppressions as women, especially as women of a visible minority tom between two cultures, can no longer be denied.

Ginder emerges from a shelter for battered women only to be shunned by the elders who assume she must have brought on her own problems. Pressured by cultural imperatives she considers a return to her abusive husband.

Hasida, the model daughter about to enter medical school (her father's dream more than her own) has just discovered she's pregnant by Oliver, her secret black boyfriend at college.

More muted is the plight of Asha, a middle-aged shopkeeper. Yet she is the one in whom the collision of cultures produces a dramatic arc and transformation. Her dreams and visions punctuate the film - defying temporal and spatial reality, creating alternate images straight out of Bombay movies.

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