Roshan Seth

Once Upon a Long Ago, Far Away a Time… Roshan Seth <pic 1> was in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), a Stephen Frears film from a Hanif Kureishi screenplay. Kureshi, a *force* in British theatre and film, once said of The 1001 Nights – a book I will speak more of later – that it was the greatest book of all’ (in My Son the Fanatic [Kureishi 199x:xii]). His own story in Laundrette <pic 2 Laundrette ad> includes a portrait of a vodka-swilling, bed ridden, socialist-journalist father of ‘white-boy kissing’ Omar (see Desai 2004:vii), played by Seth. There are problems with the film, but I was happy to organise the first ever screening in Australia back in 1985. Controversy over its troubling sexual politics – an Asian boy fucking a fascist – possibly overshadowed the economic crisis built into the plot – financial meltdown and social decay mixed with Thatcherite opportunism and rampant greed, a volatile mix that might seem familiar today.

Roshan Seth was in a lot of films – from Monsoon Wedding, London Kills Me and The Buddha of Suburbia, right through to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) <pic 3> , and instead of showing Seth, I have a picture <pic 4> that is the height of exotica-schlock-porn-horror – is the heart-tearout scene where Amrish Puri who played Mola Ram>. Here I’d just point out how this is a classic image of cod-exotica… this is a classic orientalist film …the Temple of Doom houses a Thuggee cult – I’ve written about this in relation to Calcutta and Exotica, thugs would take a rupee, tie it one end of a length of cloth (a dupatta?), and strangle their victims from behind – causing terror on the roads). Anyway, in the film Seth was Chatter Lal, Prime Minister, and I don’t have a photo of him. He (and Puri) had a role the year before in Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) – the story goes that some protested about Gandhi being represented at all, since he was like a saint and he should be presented simply as a white light crossing the screen. <Gandhi pic #5 – seems from this still that Attenborough tried to achieve that effect with Ben Kingsley>. Seth was Nehru in the film, prime minister again. When I was in Manchester I went to a fundraiser for Akbar Ahmed who was keen to make a rival bio-pick of Pakistan founder Jinnah (eventually released 1998). It was to be equally respectful of the other leader of the anti-colonial struggle. A thousand ponds a head dinner, I was there as ‘anthropologist’ and they were thinking of having none other than Ben Kingsley also play Jinnah. In the end they got Christopher Lee, with disturbing vampire associations, he faced death threats and needed body guards as people in Pakistan were, perhaps rightly, concerned at the quality of the movie. Ahmed himself, a Cambridge University Islamic scholar said his film would be respectful and truthful, not at all going in for scurrilous point scoring, it would report Nehru’s affair with Edwina Mountbatten, but not try to suggest the then soon to be Indian Prime Minister was corrupt or complicit in any way.

Roshan Seth was also Beria in the bio pic of Stalin (1992 – Robert Duvall in the lead role <Stalin Beria pic 6>). So the whole gamut of dress up roles are his – socialist-journalist in bed, thrise times Prime Minister of India, and NKVD executioner.

[more parts of my talk from last night will come when the hangover subsides… Thank-you to everyone who came last night, the students, past and present, who wrote in my little red book (great gift) and for the flowers, wine, books, more wine. thanks to the staff of the college who made it possible – from the media technicians hassled with a last minute panic, through to Geoff who contrived such a marvellous introduction. Thanks to everyone who came, from near and far – hi Cheryl – and Ange, Johhny and Freddy… Thanks Adela for the video record that appparently captures all four mentions of Emile. Thanks everyone who came.]


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