The Queen Is Indian? : Asian Artists Are Energizing London's Music, Art and Drama

By Power, Carla; Suterwalla, Shehnaz et al. | Newsweek International, February 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Queen Is Indian? : Asian Artists Are Energizing London's Music, Art and Drama


Power, Carla, Suterwalla, Shehnaz, Kuchment, Anna, Newsweek International


The queen's trooping the colors on British TV, and an Indian immigrant sits watching with his son. Britain's monarch is actually Indian, asserts the father. "Think about it, ya?" he says. "They all live in the same family house? Indian. All work in the family business? Indian. All have arranged marriages? Indian. Children live with the parents until they are married? Indian."

Like other sketches on the British comedy show, "Goodness Gracious Me," the Mr. Everything Comes From India routine has a double edge, paring neatly through British and South Asian stereotypes. Nothing's sacred on the program: four British-Asian comedians poke equal-opportunity fun at suffocating Brahmin matriarchs, bogus Hindu gurus exploiting gullible Westerners, dull BBC travel documentaries and Muslims who mysteriously find themselves with Woody Allen for a son. Britons love the irreverence: after two years on the air, "Goodness Gracious Me" has become a mainstream hit. "Kiss my chaddis," the catch insult of two Asian homeboys on the show, is schoolyard slang.

There's no surer sign that you've arrived than being able to laugh--and be laughed at--with impunity. Asians began settling in Britain in large numbers three decades ago. They worked in factories and corner stores, weathering racist slurs and long hours, and many did well. Now their children and grandchildren aren't just making good as doctors and accountants: they're making art, too--infusing the British cultural scene with new comedy, music and drama. Links to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh still hold, of course. British-born Asians can be fiercely loyal to their parents' homelands. But the new British-Asian art scene transcends politics. Punjabi Sikhs from the west London suburb of Southall might debate the South Asian nuclear race with Muslims from Bradford--while listening to Asian fusion at a London club.

Asian chic is nothing new: the Beatles went to India three decades before Madonna started wearing bindis and staining her hands with henna. But Britain's Asian Renaissance has less to do with borrowing from a foreign culture than doing what comes naturally. The kids weaned on Hindi movie- music at home were also listening to the Smiths and watching Monty Python with their friends. Both cultures took--and today, Asian customs are slowly converging with mainstream British culture. Club nights like "stoned Asia" attract crossover crowds. On British stages in Birmingham and London, Asian actors strut in Punjabi, Hindi and English. …

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