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(1999) (Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths) (R)

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Drama/Comedy: A westernized Pakistani taxi driver must contend with his son's turn to conservative Islam, particularly as it applies to the prostitutes with whom the father chauffeurs and socializes.
Parvez (OM PURI) is a reserved Pakistani taxi driver who moved to England twenty-five years ago to build a better life for himself and his family. A connoisseur of Western ways, both he and his dutiful wife, Minoo (GOPI DESAI), are proud that their teenage son, Farid (AKBAR KURTHA) is engaged to marry the local police chief's daughter, Madeline (SARAH JANE POTTS), and that his best friend, Fizzy (HARISH PATEL) will hold the reception at his swanky restaurant.

Suddenly, however, the engagement is off and fearing that his son may be on drugs, Parvez consults with one of his everyday fares, Bettina (RACHEL GRIFFITHS), a local prostitute. Since she and her cohorts make up much of his business, her line of work does not bother Parvez and they've become good friends.

In fact, when a freewheeling German businessman, Schitz (STELLAN SKARSGÅRD), arrives in town looking for some action and "entertainment" for his parties, Parvez arranges for Bettina and her cohorts to service his needs.

Relieved that his son is not on drugs, Parvez discovers a fact that's even more troubling to him. It seems that Farid has turned to Islam and has invited one of its priests, the Maulvi (BHASKER PATEL) to stay at their home. Despondent over his son's change -- especially his zero tolerance toward his father's ways -- Parvez tries to deal with his suddenly upended life, and consequently spends more time with Bettina.

As that friendship turns into something more and his son's involvement in Islam puts an increasing strain on his family life, Parvez tries to determine what he wants out of life and whether he's made the right choices.

The odds are extremely limited that they will.
For sexuality, language and a scene of drug use.
  • OM PURI plays a Pakistani taxi driver who wants the best for his family. His wife's coolness toward him, however, coupled with his son's turn to Islam, eventually drives him into the arms of a friend, who just so happens to be a hooker. He also drinks (getting drunk in one scene).
  • RACHEL GRIFFITHS plays that hooker who has an affair with Parvez and smokes, when not having sex with Schitz or servicing his parties.
  • AKBAR KURTHA plays his son who turns to Islam and condemns his father's and the country's Western ways.
  • GOPI DESAI plays Parvez's dutiful wife who has similarly taken objection -- albeit muffled -- toward her husband's behavior and attitude.
  • STELLAN SKARSGÅRD plays a visiting German businessman who has sex with Bettina, snorts cocaine, and holds parties serviced by Bettina and her hooker associates.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    While comedian/actor Steve Martin has played various characters throughout his career -- including a brief stint as King Tut -- one of his most beloved ones is George Banks from the "Father of the Bride" films. Now, many of you at this point are probably thinking that you're either reading the wrong review or that your faithful critic has seen too many movies and is now mixing them up.

    That's particularly true since that "wild and crazy" guy is nowhere to be found in this picture and probably wouldn't be associated with a story concerning a Pakistani father who falls for a hooker while his son's turn to Islam is driving him crazy.

    Yet, Martin's take on the mild-mannered father figure who thinks he's hip but becomes completely exasperated with his family members is clearly an influence on this film. Of course, Martin isn't the only performer to play such a character with such reactions -- after all, Spencer Tracy influenced him -- but he just plays that sort of character so well that you can feel his comic spirit pervading this production.

    As such, if one can imagine a popular Indian actor playing a Pakistani cab driver version of Martin, then the feel for at least part of this film and its central character will become readily apparent. Naturally that's only a starting point as this film obviously delves into more risque material, but that comically irritated father figure is the heart and soul of this genre bending film and certainly qualifies as its most fun aspect.

    Part situational comedy, part drama, this unconventional picture works best when delving in the former arena, but is compelling enough as the latter to make the film interesting throughout. Fueled by a surprisingly quirky and upbeat soundtrack -- that symbolically mirrors the protagonist -- the film's best moments concern actor Om Puri ("Gandhi," "The Ghost and the Darkness").

    One of India's leading performers, his incredulous reactions to his son's sudden change of religious and societal beliefs and the resultant repercussions of that lead to some humorous material. The more things change, the more stubborn Puri's character becomes and the results -- while not of the knee slapping variety -- are often quite funny.

    That's particularly true when Parvez's son invites a Muslim priest to stay in their house (to which the father hesitantly agrees), and then watches in comical befuddlement as his son and the other followers begin converting his westernized home into a more "acceptable" abode for the Maulvi and his wife goes back to eating in the kitchen by herself away from the men.

    Based on a short story that first appeared in "The New Yorker" and as adapted by screenwriter Hanif Kureishi ("My Beautiful Laundrette," "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid"), the film unfortunately doesn't stick with the situational comedy. Instead it delves into more serious material and isn't quite as successful when dealing with those dramatic elements. Even so, the plot's construction and finalized delivery are solid enough in creating and playing off the conflict-based drama to keep things interesting throughout.

    Interestingly, and considering that Puri plays that immediately likeable father figure, Kureishi and director Udayan Prasad ("Brothers in Trouble") -- notwithstanding the title -- don't take sides or make the son and his fellow believers the "villains" of the story.

    While Farid's sudden attraction and devotion to Islam is never satisfactorily explained nor explored to give him equal weight in this conflict, Parvez's faults soon become apparent. As such, the audience suddenly finds itself no longer with a favorite character, and being thrown off balance makes the film that much more interesting -- although not as entertaining -- then when it began.

    Although Parvez can't understand his son's sudden change, Farid conversely cannot see why his father abandoned their beliefs, is oblivious to the ever-present racism of their working class English town, and mingles -- in more than one way -- with the local prostitutes. As such, these differing opinions and views create plenty of conflict amongst the characters which keeps the story constantly moving forward.

    The performances are decent across the board, although some fare better than others. As earlier mentioned, Om Puri gives an intriguing take on that less than perfect father figure, and while some viewers may turn on him due to his later behavior, many will stick with him simply because Puri does such a fine job portraying a man who finds his life changing all around him.

    Oscar nominee Rachel Griffiths (for "Hilary and Jackie," she also appeared in the recent "Among Giants") delivers another fine performance as the hooker who falls for Parvez. While the story never really delves into her character and what motivated her into that profession, Griffiths embodies her with enough compelling qualities to keep her character interesting, if not always agreeable, to the audience.

    Supporting takes by the likes of Akbar Kurtha ("Judge Dredd") as the suddenly disenchanted son and Gopi Desai (a popular Indian actress) as the mostly subservient wife are quite good. Unfortunately, one of the more interesting characters, as played by Stellan Skarsgard ("Good Will Hunting"), comes off as more of a necessary plot contrivance than a real, flesh and blood creation, especially since neither he nor his hedonistic behavior is ever explored beyond the obvious.

    Although I would have preferred the film to continue along in the light comedy route rather than delve more into the dramatic and occasionally unsavory material, the end result is nearly always interesting and is constructed well enough to earn a moderate recommendation for those looking for something beyond the normal Hollywood fair. As such, we give "My Son the Fanatic" a 6 out of 10.

    The following is a brief look at the content found in this R-rated drama/comedy hybrid. Profanity is extreme due to at least 9 "f" words being used (possibly more and some used sexually), while other profanities and colorful language are also used.

    Some nudity occurs (women's bare breasts, most of one's bare butt in a thong-like bottom) and a major character is a prostitute, and we briefly see/hear activity in the backseat of a car in one scene. Other implied sexual activity involving her and two major male characters also occurs.

    In one scene, two major characters snort cocaine, while in another, the protagonist gets drunk (over his son's behavior) and other drinking and smoking also occur. Some violent behavior is present including scenes involving thrown punches (including a woman being hit on separate occasions) as well as mob violence.

    Several characters exhibit bad attitudes/behavior (one is a hooker, another a violent hedonist, and a married man has an affair with that hooker), and some viewers may take offense at how certain religious/social beliefs are displayed. In addition, there are plenty of tense family scenes related to that affair as well as father/son tension over religion/society that create a great deal of conflict.

    While it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, you may want to take a closer look at the listed content should you be concerned about its appropriateness for you or anyone else in your home.

  • While meeting their future in-laws, Parvez tells Minoo to bring some champagne. We then see still photos of those two, the in-laws, and Farid and his fiancé holding glasses of champagne.
  • Parvez thinks that Farid may be on drugs (he's not), and so asks Bettina for the warning signs of such usage.
  • Parvez has a drink.
  • People have drinks in a bar, while Schitz has a beer and Parvez has what may or may not be a drink (it looks like orange juice).
  • People drink in a club.
  • Bettina and Schitz have beer.
  • We see Schitz separating some cocaine. He and Bettina then snort some of it.
  • Parvez pours himself a drink.
  • People have drinks at Fizzy's, including Fizzy and Parvez who have champagne. Fizzy then brings over drinks for Parvez and Farid, but only Parvez drinks (and continues to have more until he's rather drunk -- but Farid drives home).
  • Parvez and Bettina have wine with dinner.
  • People have drinks at one of Schitz's parties.
  • Parvez has a drink and later carries a bottle of booze with him through the house.
  • We see some big and deep bruises on Bettina's back (from where Schitz has evidently gotten rough with her).
  • A hooker has some blood on the side of her face after her "home" is attacked.
  • Some viewers may not like the film's portrayal of Islam and its followers as being the odd, comical or "wrong" choice for Farid.
  • Parvez doesn't accept his son's sudden belief in Islam. He also drives prostitutes from one job to the next, has an affair with one, and even arranges prostitutes for Schitz's parties.
  • Some may see Farid for having both for flaunting his religious and societal belief's in his father's face and then asking if a high priest can stay at their home, etc...
  • Bettina and many other women are prostitutes.
  • A man blows smoke in Parvez's face after the taxi driver informs him that there's no smoking in his cab.
  • A comedian makes fun of Parvez in his act due to his ethnic background and a patron behind Parvez starts throwing small items at him. Bettina then throws a beer on that man who tries to come after her and has to be restrained.
  • We see some big and deep bruises on Bettina's back (from where Schitz has evidently gotten rough with her). Beyond that, Schitz is a hedonistic businessman and in another scene he kicks Parvez to the ground and then laughs about it.
  • Confrontational scenes that take place later in the film (as described in "Violence") may be unsettling to some viewers.
  • Presumed Molotov cocktail: Thrown into a building to catch it on fire.
  • Phrases: "Piss off," "Shut your trap," "Bastard," "Useless idiot," "Bitch," "Bloody," "Bugger off," "Shut up" and "Go to hell."
  • A person gives "the finger" when asking if another person is doing that to them.
  • Farid protests outside the hookers' "home" and then spits in Bettina's face after pushing her to the ground. He later spits in his father's face.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 9 "f" words (with another possible 2 and 2 of the existing ones used sexually), 4 "s" words, 5 slang terms for male genitals ("d*ck"), 2 slang terms for female genitals ("p*ssy"), 3 asses (1 used with "hole"), 1 damn, 1 hell, and 1 use of "bugger," along with 1 use each of "For God's sakes" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • In addition and while waiting to pick up Schitz at the airport, Parvez holds up a sign that reads "Mr. SHITs."
  • We briefly see a prostitute's bare breast as we pass by her in a car.
  • We see Bettina and a man in the backseat of Parvez's taxi with her telling her "client" to slow down. After a brief stop, we then hear sexual sounds (the man climaxing) coming from the backseat, but don't see anything.
  • Schitz appears to run his hand over Bettina's body as he checks her out (for future "service") and says, "Couldn't you kiss every part of her?"
  • Concerned about Farid's prior interest in clothes and ironing, Parvez says that he was worried about him "going homo."
  • Bettina shows some cleavage in various scenes.
  • As Schitz has his arm around Bettina, he appears to be touching/feeling her breast.
  • As Bettina sits behind a table with her legs spread, Schitz moves over to her and puts his head between her legs (while commenting about "p*ssy"). As the two then go into a bedroom as she sits on the bed in her garters and bra-like top and before he closes the door, Schitz tells Parvez to enjoy Bettina "after I'm done with her." It's implied that they have sex.
  • Farid complains to his father about their society that's soaked in sex.
  • We see Bettina in her bra.
  • With each alternating behind the other, Parvez and Bettina caress and kiss each other in a sensual fashion. We then see them (presumably after sex) lying nude in the "spoons" position. As such, we see the sides of their bare butts as well as the side of her bare breast.
  • A hooker shows some cleavage.
  • At one of Schitz's "parties," we see several women dancing, one of them being bare-breasted and showing most of her bare butt in the thong-like bottom she's wearing (we also briefly see the very small front of that same piece of clothing).
  • We see Parvez and Bettina again presumably after sex (with her under the covers).
  • Referring to Bettina, Parvez's friend says "Everyone f*cks her. Thousands of d*cks."
  • Bettina smokes around five times, while we see Fizzy with a cigar and various other miscellaneous characters smoking.
  • Schitz briefly mentions that he left his family.
  • Farid's adoption of Islam and Parvez's refusal and then reluctance to allow that to happen puts a tremendous strain on their relationship as well as on Parvez and Minoo (at one point she states that she wishes she was with her relatives and he tells her she can go).
  • In another scene, Parvez violently yanks Farid up the stairs in their home and repeatedly strikes him and slams him against a wall. Because of this and other factors, both he and Minoo eventually move out.
  • Prostitution.
  • The differing ideological and societal viewpoints of Parvez and his son and what it leads to between them (and whether either of them is "correct").
  • Islam for those not familiar with its ideologies.
  • We see some big and deep bruises on Bettina's back (from where Schitz has evidently gotten rough with her).
  • Schitz kicks Parvez to the ground and then laughs about it.
  • We see a mob of Islam followers throwing things at the hookers' "home." A window is already broken and what's presumably a Molotov cocktail is thrown through another one, which ignites and catches the place on fire. A man then runs up and punches a hooker, causing another hooker to jump on him and there's plenty of consequential struggling.
  • Farid pushes Bettina to the ground and then spits in her face, causing Parvez to grab his son violently.
  • Parvez then violently yanks Farid up the stairs in their home and repeatedly strikes him and slams him against a wall.
  • Parvez violently breaks and tears up some of Farid's leftover signs and Minoo heaves a glass in Parvez's direction that shatters upon hitting a wall.

  • Reviewed May 17, 1999 / Posted July 2, 1999

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