South Asian fiction and play writing is a growing aspect of British Asian arts and culture with many books and plays being made into films. We have compiled a list of writers who have made their mark and not to be missed.
Many of Kureishi's works have been made as films
British Asian fiction is rising to the forefront of our book shelves. Many British Asian plays and books have made their way onto theatre stages and film. Many have achieved tremendous success and acknowledgement in mainstream media.
Increasing recognition has been awarded to the writers behind the stories which unite the lifestyle of East and West or explore the differences.
We uncover some of the popular British Asian writers that have acquired fame through their talents and provide inspiration to many budding Brit-Asian writers.
Meera Syal was born in Wolverhampton to Hindu and Sikh parents in 1961. As a young professional, she specialised in studied English and Drama at Manchester University.
Syal is most commonly known for her contribution to the hit comedy sketch shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No.42. Since starring in the hit sketch shows, Syal has written and starred in an amalgamation of titles. Syal has not only been acknowledged for her work in literature but also for her musical talents, lest we forget the number one hit single ‘Spirit in the Sky’ with Gareth Gates.
Syal’s first novel, Anita and Me (1996), was inspired by her childhood experiences. She has described the text as ‘homage’ to her own generation whom she considers to be the first generation of Indians to be born and grow up in Britain. The book was made and released as film in 2002 with Meera Syal as Auntie Shaila in the cast.
The novel tells the story of Meena, a young Punjabi girl growing up in the fictional village of Tollington, and her relationship with her white friend, Anita. It was adapted into a film in 2002 and described as a “comic, poignant, compassionate and colourful portrait of village life in the era of flares, glam rock.”
Upon reflection, Meera Syal is very much the puppeteer of this style of writing. The novel has been listed a key study text in schools and university English syllabuses. As well as being shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, ‘Anita and Me’ won the Betty Trask Award for Syal.
In 1999, Syal released her second popular novel Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee; a story which centered around the lives of three childhood girlfriends Tania, Sunita and Chila. The book was adapted as a mini-series for BBC television.
Syal has received many prestigious awards, most notably an MBE in 1997. She won the ‘Media Personality of the Year’ in 2000 at the annual ‘Race in the Media’ awards. In celebration of diversity and ethnicity, Syal also achieved an EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) award in 2001.
London born playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker, novelist and short story writer, Hanif Kureishi has penned over thirty titles. Kureishi, like Syal, was born into a mixed culture family; his father being Pakistani and his mother being English. He grew up in Bromley, where he stayed until his university degree.
Kureishi is well known for his coming of age, semi autobiographical novel and Whitbread Prize winner for the best first novel The Buddha of Suburbia. The novel focuses on the young mixed-race boy, Karim and his endeavors to escape suburban South London.
Kureishi’s novels and short stories tackle sensitive issues which include ‘’race, nationalism, immigration, and sexuality’’ and he uses cultural references to build a picture of the struggle that his protagonists face whilst dealing with such issues. Kureshi has stated that his excitement in writing comes when facing the difficult issues in his writing.
Music is a significant theme within Kureishi’s writing which lends itself to 1970s pop culture. This affinity that Kureishi has with music is distinctly different from other conventional writers of Asian literature.
Many of Kureishi’s works have been made as films including My Beautiful Laundrette, Budha of Surbubia and Rosie Get Laid.
Kureishi’s harshest critics remain to be his family. They have accused him of taking advantage of their life experiences and not so subtly manipulating them in his works. His sister, especially, has vocalised her annoyance at Kureishi’s portrayal of their childhood through his writing.
Nonetheless, Kureishi’s contribution to the Brit-Asian literary canon has been noted through various awards. In 2008, The Times listed Kureishi as one of ‘The Greatest British Writers since 1945.’
Unlike the others on this list, Gurinder Chadha takes her fictional writing to the big screen with cinematic hits such as Bend It like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice listed in her filmography.
Chadha grew up in Southall, UK, where she attended Clifton Primary School and went on to university. After which she went on to specialise in Radio Journalism. Chadha started her career as a news reporter with BBC radio and progressed to television until she finally began working in film production where the majority of her success has been found.
Chadha’s first major hit on the big screen was Bhaji on the Beach (1993) for which Chadha teamed up with Syal to write the screenplay. The film tells the story of a diverse group of British women of South Asian whilst on a day trip to the beach in Blackpool. Chadha received wide recognition for the film in 1993 and the film went on to receive international recognition including a BAFTA nomination for ‘Best British Film of 1994’ and the Evening Standard British Film Award for ‘Best Newcomer to British Cinema.’
Bhaji on the Beach was followed by major projects directed by Gurinder. Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Bride and Prejudice (2004) which starred former Miss World and International Indian actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Chadha’s achievements have earned her an OBE as well as other numerous awards. It has been noted that Chadha has a great affinity to stories about families and this is reflected in her artistic works. The theme is prominent in her projects; Chadha brings to life the whirlwind that is the Asian household and this portrayal is something not to be missed.
Tanika Gupta is a British playwright of Bengali origin. Gupta’s most recent production is an adaptation of the Dicken’s classic Great Expectations for the stage, setting it in 1860s Calcutta.
Adapting plays is not unfamiliar for Gupta as she has previously reworked Brecht’s Good Woman of Szechuan and Harold Brighouse’s ‘Hobson’s Choice’ for which she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.
Gupta’s latest adaptation differs from her previous ones as she transposes a large novel into a condensed play. Gupta smoothly shifts the essentially English story to a village outside Calcutta, retaining the core themes around ambitions and class but simultaneously adding new dimensions around race and empire.
The inspiration for her 2002 play, Sanctuary came whilst she was on her honeymoon in Kashmir in 1988. She stayed on a houseboat on Dal Lake, which she described as “paradise”. There was a disturbance and gun shots were heard ringing out upon her departure. Since then, thousands of innocent civilians have died in the war and tourists are advised not to go there. Gupta states that she wanted to write a play that dealt with one of those many thousands of civilians. As well as writing for theatre, Gupta has written for hit British television shows such as Grange Hill, Eastenders and The Bill.
Gupta has proclaimed her pride at being as Asian woman writer but highlights the danger of being defined as a writer by your race or gender. Gupta believes that it becomes a label and shapes the way that people perceive you and your work.
For Gupta, theatre is a living art-form. Despite the ever-presence of TV, film and the Internet, live performance is more powerful than ever. Next on the horizon for Gupta is an upcoming adaption for Meera Syal’s Anita and Me in Birmingham.
Born in Salford, Manchester, in a mixed-race family, Ayub Khan-Din rose to fame as a writer after he penned his hit ‘East is East’ in the late 1990s.
The first of his plays was ‘East is East’ (1997) which he wrote after immense encouragement from Sudha Bhuchar who at the time was performing with him for the Tamasha Theatre company. The play was performed at the Royal Court Theatre and was nominated for the 1998 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best New Comedy.
In 1999, the play was by Khan-Din adapted to one of the most memorable British Asian films in 1999, starring Om Puri as the father and Linda Basset as the mother.
The film won both a British Independent Film Award and a London Critics Circle Film Award for Khan-Din’s screenplay, as well as being nominated for two BAFTA Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer, and for a European Film Award for Best Screenwriter.
The story concurred a lot of Ayub’s own childhood living in Salford and being part of a large family with a Pakistani father and a white British mother. The character of ‘Sajid Khan’ depicts Khan-Din as a young boy and the parents in the script reflecting his own parents.
2010 saw the sequel film to East is East called West is West written by Khan-Din. The story set in 1975 takes members of the family back to Pakistan where the father George Khan (Om Puri) feels Sajid at the age of 15 is losing his roots and takes him on a visit back to the homeland. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
In 2007, Khan-Din’s comical adaptation of Bill Naughton’s 1963 play, ‘All in Good Time’ called ‘Rafta, Rafta’ opened at the Lyttelton stage of the Royal National Theatre in London. The story looks at the marital difficulties within an immigrant Indian family living in Bolton. A film version of the play is currently in production, directed by Nigel Cole and with Reece Ritche in the leading role.
As well as writing, Ayub Khan-din has also acted in over 18 British films and television series. Including his debut in My Beautiful Launderette in 1985 and his celebrated role as Sammy in Rosie Get Laid in 1987.
The British Asian writers we share with you are amongst the many others who are growing in this field. The opportunity is there for anyone with a creative mind, passion, determination and an aptitude for writing to become as successful as any of these writers. No one can predict huge success but you will not know what is possible until you do realise the talents you have in you. And writing could be one talent you may still have not explored.
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