Elements Of Diaspora In Hanif Kureishi’s "My Beautiful Laundrette"

Source: Wikipedia

The concepts of roots, routes, re-routing, and re-rooting are central to the diaspora and identity discourse, and they evoke feelings of nostalgia, anguish, and bereavement. “All diasporas are unhappy,” says reputed diasporic critic Vijay Mishra, “but every diaspora is unhappy in its own way.”

My Beautiful Laundrette is a 1985 screenplay written by Hanif Kureishi, a British playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, and novelist of Pakistani and English descent, for Stephen Frears’ film about a gay Pakistani-British youth growing up in 1980s London. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and won the New York City Film Critics Best Screenplay Award.

Diaspora and LGBTQ Community

Source: The Diplomatist

One of the many groups of people in the diaspora struggling to find their place in their new land is the members of the LGBTQ community who face discrimination in both their homes and their home countries. These people's identity crisis is exacerbated by the fact that they are stigmatized not only because of their gender and ethnicity but also because of their sexual identity. 

Despite the positive feedback received by My Beautiful Launderette, several Pakistani groups believed they were being stereotyped as gays and drug dealers. They saw a character having Pakistani ancestry as a representation of the whole Pakistani community and thus, should project a positive image of Pakistanis to the audiences. 

However, Kureishi condemns this politics of representation and refuses to stand in as the ambassador of his ethnicity. He chooses to illustrate the existential dilemmas of racism and class divisions. 

Elements of Diaspora in the Screenplay

Source: Londonist

The focus of My Beautiful Launderette on Omar's characterization highlights the numerous strands of his identity. Interracial marriage between a Pakistani immigrant and an English woman resulted in his development of a dual identity. Omar's identity is a hybrid of the two cultures—Britishness and Asianness—and it shifts depending on his interests.

His ascent in social standing is sparked by the support of his Pakistani family in London, and he possesses the zest for economic enterprise and ambition generally associated with Asian immigrants. He does, however, differ from the norm in Pakistani communities, where people work for their families rather than for self-improvement. 

Omar's father wants him to marry someone from their own community. However, he creates his own space by deciding to stay with Johnny and having a homosexual relationship with him. Within his ethnic community, his relationship with Johnny defies the Pakistani custom of arranged marriage.

In Diasporic texts, the concept of 'Home' is complicated and disputed. There are many different perspectives on the concept of home and location. Cherry, one of the characters in ‘My Beautiful Launderette’, says, 

“You stupid, what a stupid, it’s my home. Could anyone in their right mind call this silly little island off Europe their home? Every day in Karachi...I am so sick of hearing about these in-betweens. People should make up their minds where they are”

Nasser's wife, Bilquis, is spotted moving about the home but never outside. Nasser is joined by his mistress Rachel, not his wife, even at social events. She is uneducated and does not speak English, which prevents her from blending into Britain's foreign culture. Because she is unable to integrate into her husband's neo-meritocratic society, she creates her own sanctuary within her home where she may stay in touch with her Pakistani roots.

Hybridity: The Third Space

The characters' association with the “diaspora” is also characterized by hybridity. In the narrative, there are two contrasting perspectives on this subject. One of them is Omar's uncle's pragmatic viewpoint, which signifies the ability to adjust to the circumstances in which he lives. England is the key psychological point of reference for him.

Source: Londonist

He is adamantly opposed to any sentimental attachment to his homeland. “But that country has been sodomized by religion,” he remarks. “It is beginning to interfere with the making of Money. Compared with everywhere, it is a little heaven here”. Omar's father, on the other hand, has a quite different viewpoint. He reflects the emotional issues that arise as a result of the "diaspora," as well as the issues of hybridity. 

He despises England and clings on to his roots, saying, “This damn country has done us in. That is why I am like this. We should be there. Home”. These sentences conceal a great deal of disappointment. The failure of humanistic utopia is symbolized by Omar's father.

My Beautiful Launderette also explores the complexities of the Asian diaspora's second generation, whose hybridity creates a sense of estrangement from the motherland while also preventing full acceptance by the new homeland. 

Characters such as Omar's father and Nasser are of an older generation diaspora who are deeply devoted to the community from which they came and wish to arrange Omar's marriage to Tania, whilst newer generation characters such as Omar and Tania identify as hybrids who are a mix of cultures. They are attempting to define themselves in terms of their new culture rather than the old one. 

Source: The Film Experience 

Women are required to follow the rules, the code of conduct set by men in conventional Pakistani society. There is also a patriarchal gender divide that confines women to domestic life as carers, living in subordination to their fathers, brothers, and spouses and with no autonomy. 

Tania, a second-generation woman, dresses in jeans and t-shirts rather than sarees or salwar kameez like other women. For her, family represents the obligations of adhering to the traditional beliefs and culture's ideals. Therefore, portraying Tania's rejection and transition into a new identity in the new place.

Written By - Sanjana Chaudhary