Wednesday, 21 April 2010

"The BNP are useless! As useless as this hat!"

I like to stuff my hands in my pockets when I’m totally relaxed. So I’m not entirely sure how all those ‘body language’ experts concluded that Nick Clegg putting his hands in his pockets during the TV debate last week was a sign of nervousness. While Clegg is Cameron's equal in the style and appearance stakes, the leader of the Liberal Democrats comes across as having more substance than the Tory leader who seems to be spending his time flitting between personas. Last week, Nihal from BBC 1 interviewed the gruff Gordon Brown and this week, it’s the turn of the baby-faced Liberal leader Clegg. Excerpts from the interview...

...Nihal: I just want you to get into your immigration plans because people that vote for the BNP say it’s because Labour has been so lax on immigration and allowed so many people to come in. You are now being levelled with the same charges by the parties that you are the laxest out of all of them. Are your policies on immigration going to drive more people towards the BNP?
Nick Clegg: No of course not, our policies on immigration are designed to deliver the immigration system that I think people want, which is one that works, for starters, that will be a nice change, because you know the chaos, the administrative chaos in the immigration system under a succession of Conservative and Labour Governments has got to end, but is also fair, lets people come here to work, to make a contribution, to pay their taxes, but discourages bad immigration.

Nihal: Well how many people do we need here then?
Nick Clegg: I don’t think it’s a question frankly of numbers

Nihal: It has to be of numbers doesn’t it because all the papers, all the right wing papers are about and that drives people towards the BNP doesn’t it?
Nick Clegg: Can I just tell you why I think the numbers game is a mug’s game, I mean look at the Conservatives, they introduced a cap, but they won’t tell you, is it 10 is it 10,000 is it 10 million. I think we should know. But also, remember, there are a huge number of people who go and work and live abroad, I think there are roughly as many people living and working abroad from Britain as there are who you know come here. It’s a kind of two way street. I think we need to have borders that work, so I’d actually be tougher on our borders. I want to see the immediate re-introduction of exit checks. Exit checks mean you not only know who’s coming into the country, but you know who’s going out, you know when people should go out. It was the Conservatives who abolished exit controls and Labour then followed up. So I actually want you know a proper border knowing who’s coming in and out, I want a proper border police force, we have every right to police our borders. Then we need to do two things. Firstly we need to encourage anyone who’s coming here, to live and work here, to work in places where there is work for them to do, and where there isn’t an unreasonable strain on housing, on schools and so on, that’s why we are saying, unlike the Labour and Conservative parties, look if people are going to come and work here and you do all checks on them, also make sure they can work in those regions and parts of the country where they should. And just one final thing, the thing that’s sort of caught the headlines in the last day or two is about a very specific one off problem, which is that because of the chaos under the immigration system of the Labour and the Conservative parties for years, you’ve got lots and lots of people who have been coming here illegally for a long time, so you’ve got to deal with that, you’ve got to deal with lots of people that are living in the shadows of our British economy.

Nihal: What do you say, as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, to someone who’s thinking about voting BNP; that’s something that scares the listeners to the BBC Asian Network, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people do vote BNP. What are you going to say to them to make them feel better? Because what the BNP is saying is they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our houses, we feel like there is a flood. And that word flood is banded around in the press all the time.
Nick Clegg: Sure. Firstly, I feel really strongly about this. The BNP is an evil, vile, fascist organisation. We, the Liberal Democrats have been devastatingly successful at beating the BNP. Remember a few years ago, when everyone said Burnley was going to be the first BNP town. Look now, it’s now run by the Liberal Democrats. First of all, you explain to them that the BNP are a vile organisation, but you say something much more powerful, which is that they’re useless. They’re utterly useless. And I’ll tell you why they are useless. Because hate, which is all that the BNP peddles, doesn’t create a single job, doesn’t build a single affordable home, doesn’t solve a single crime. If you want help for yourself, for your family, for your parents, for your grandparents, for your street, for your community, the BNP is useless.

Nihal: Extremism. How do you combat extremism in this country without increasing Islamophobia?
Nick Clegg: Firstly, if people break the law, they are on the wrong side of the law and they need to be dealt with. But as long as people are respecting the law, you’ve got to engage with each other. You know, there are people in politics, in religion who have views that I really don’t like and think are wrong, but you’ve got to engage with them.

Nihal: So talk to Anjum Choudary (spokesman for the radical Islam4UK Group)?
Nick Clegg: I think the danger of just pushing people under the ground, sweeping things under the carpet, is that you allow the hate, the extremism, the sense of grievance, the sense of martyrdom to fester. So as a general principle, I think it’s really important in a democratic society to make sure that you don’t stereotype people. You know, I hear constantly, people very lazily talking about almost equating the Muslim faith with extremism. It’s just deeply offensive to my Muslim friends. For a start, there isn’t one Muslim Community, there are Muslim communities, from different nations, from different strands of the Muslim faith. And of course, you need to come down really hard on people who spread hate, who incite violence, of course you do that, and I’m very hard-line on that. But I think it’s really important that you constantly, particularly young men, who are very angry in some of these communities, you say to them look come on then tell us what’s making you angry, get them out into the open, if you push people into the shadows, if you sweep the problem under the carpet, it always gets worse.

Nihal: A lot of Asians run their own businesses, self-employed. What would the Liberal Democrat Government do for them?
Nick Clegg: My local newsagent was telling me just the other day, that his biggest problem, and he’s someone that has been working from dawn to dusk for years, unbelievably hard, really successful local shop. Guess what? His bank is completely letting him down, his bank has suddenly told him out of the blue, that they’re going to him charge him 8% over the base rate in order to keep his overdraft facility going. And it’s crippling him. So I think the biggest thing for small businesses up and down the country, whatever they do, is to make sure that the banks lend. And we are the only party in British politics now saying the banks shouldn’t be hoarding the money that we’ve given them, they should be lending it. We should spit up the banks so that they can never again play Russian Roulette with your everyday savings. They should lend the money, which is after all public money, to viable British businesses and they should do it on reasonable rates. That is the absolute lifeblood of small businesses in Britain.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Lights! Camera! Ganja Pakoras! - Gurindher Chadha's back.

Gurindher Chadha is one of the loveliest, liveliest people you will meet; her Punjabi ebullience screaming out from each pore. And she’s given to making movies that are quite lovely as well, films that occupy that vast cinematic expanse between mediocre and terrific, with a few exceptions of course (Bend it Like Beckham, Bhaji on the Beach which are nearer the terrific side of the fence). Her latest is “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife”, a horror-comedy-romance that combines a veritable orgy of genres, from classic Ealing Comedies to zombie-spoofs. It’s a circus of a movie that is, however, more communist era East European attraction than Cirque du Soleil.

Okay, let me see if I can get the synopsis right without getting my intestines knotted up: the film begins with Sanjeev Baskar’s character being force fed Chicken Vindaloo before his stomach bursts open in an operating theatre. It’s one in a series of messy deaths involving everything from Chapatti dough to Chicken skewers. The culprit is the distinctly middle-class Mrs Sethi (Shabana Azmi) who’s killing off anyone who snubs her daughter, the plump but good-natured Roopy (Goldy Notay). Shadowing the deadly cook (and visible only to her) are the spirits of her victims, loitering around Mrs Sethi, nagging and castigating the poor woman and demanding she kill herself so that they can move on to the afterlife. The dutiful mother agrees but not before she has found a suitable partner for Roopy. The bungling local police are on to her (they think) and the polite and handsome police officer Murthy is drafted in to investigate; he happens to be known to Roopy and her recently widowed mother.

Soon Mrs Sethi and her poltergeist crew are scheming their way to getting Roopy hitched. Into this slightly convoluted mix comes Linda (Sally Hawkins), Roopy’s friend who’s been transformed into a new age psychic after a visit to an Indian Ashram. She calls herself Gitali, wears Indian clothes, has an Indian fiancĂ©e (Jimi Mistry) and is convinced that she’s in tune with the spirit world.

The plot is a bit loony but the film is saved (just) by the fact that Chadha likes to go the whole hog, whatever she does. The climactic scene is a heady, colourful reimagining of the ending to Brian de Palma’s ‘Carrie’ with the explosions, water cannons and runaway electricity cables replaced here with Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Pakoras; topped off with a generous dose of old school Bollywood.

The legendary and elegant Shabhana Azmi, unsurprisingly, is excellent in her role as the conflicted mother, portraying with aplomb the anguish and determination felt by that eternally undervalued member of the family. The sickeningly handsome (and I’m a man) Sendhil Ramamurthy (the strait laced geneticist Mohinder Suresh in ‘Heroes’) plays to type as does the exquisite and charming Goldy Notay, who had to pile on the pounds for her role. However, the real heart of the film is Sally Hawkins, a bundle of nervous energy who’s effusive and incredibly affectionate and who ends up stealing each scene.

In spite of the cast however, overall, the film’s a disappointment. The script (by Chadha and her husband Paul Mayeda Burges) plays on all the customary cultural oddities – from arranged marriages and bigamy to mothers accompanying grown men to speed dating events. Those issues have been exploited in the same way so many times that it all just feels like stale Chapattis; still edible (admit it, everyone’s had stale Chapattis) but not very enjoyable. The humour is witty at times but mostly just plain silly and relies on the usual Indian curry jokes and fat gags. Annoyingly, just when the narrative promises some flow and substance, Gurindher’s off in a hurry trying to cram in as much gore, as many genres and gags as possible and just generally causing chaos. Her approach is endearingly muddled but muddled nonetheless.

“Afterlife” seems to have been a bit of a diversion before Chadha embarks on her far more serious next project, which is reportedly based on “Freedom at Midnight”, the acclaimed book on the Partition of India. I’m actually looking forward to it because when Chadha gets it right, her films are really good. This one just feels like a diversion as well.

If it’s light-hearted, feel-good entertainment (complete with syrupy soundtrack) you’re after, this is your Chicken Tikka Masala; invented by the Brits, unheard of in India, prepared by Bangladeshis. Unadventurous and predictable but entertaining on a quiet Thursday night nonetheless.

Just about lovely. Nothing more, nothing less.

- Vijitha Alles

“It’s a Wonderful Afterlife” is released April 21.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gordon Brown speaks to BBC 1's Nihal about immigration, the BNP and the BBC Asian Network

Excerpts from an interview that began cordially enough but ended with Gordon Brown sounding like he wants to pull out whatever hair that remains on Nihal’s head...I found the picture from another blog; seems Gordon’s penchant for ill-fitting suits goes back at least 30 years...

...Nihal: One of your five pledges, highlighted in your election campaign is to talk about fairness for communities, specifically by controlling immigration. Now is it possible for you as the Prime Minister, in this current climate, to talk about controlling immigration without sounding a tad racist?

PM: I hope we don’t sound that at all because Britain has benefitted from immigration. As a history, our nation is built on our openness to trade and the ideas and the talents of others and that’s also our future. But I think that everybody knows that in every country, migration must be managed and must be tightly controlled, and that’s why our new system, which is called the points based system, has been introduced. First of all, we want to make sure there’s no illegal immigration and where it happens, we deal with it. And secondly, we want to say to people, look if your coming to our country, we want you to have a skill to offer our country and there are certain skills that we need and obviously there are certain skills that we don’t need and we make it clear to people that here are the skills that we do need and if you have these skills to offer, you are very welcome. Now of course for students and for dependents, we have arrangements also but the key of our new system is this points based system and as a result of it, I think we are getting people with skills who are coming to the country but we are not encouraging people without skills.

Nihal: Prime Minister, why is it that the press or certain sections of the press will lead us to believe that there is a flood of immigration and people who live in this country, who were born in this country also believe that they are now fighting for jobs and for homes with people who have recently come into this country? Who’s telling the truth, who is lying?

PM: I think we had a world financial recession that has been very difficult for people and I think it’s true to say that people are worried about their jobs when there is a recession. And I think it’s also true to say that we are trying to give people in Britain the skills that are necessary for the jobs that we are going to have in the future. And I’m in a college today in Derby, where people of all backgrounds are here studying for the qualifications to get the jobs….

Nihal: But what’s the truth, what’s the truth? Are we being flooded by immigrants or is the fact of the matter something quite different, that we are actually not being flooded with immigrants? Because if you pick up the papers one or two of them are saying, there’s a flood of immigration, all these things are happening…Are you in danger of pandering to these right wing sensibilities and the beliefs of the British national party and the English Defence League if you start becoming more hardcore as it were about immigration?

PM: Well I don’t pander to anybody and I do what is right. Net migration has fallen in this country and that’s the phrase that is used at the measure of the International Migration Series. Net migration as measured by the long-term International Migration Series was 233,000 in the 12 months to December 2007 and then in 2008 it was 163,000. We don’t have the long-term migration figures for the 12 months to the end of 2009 but we expect that they will be less. That is the truth of what is happening that net migration has been falling over the last three years. And it’s better to start a debate by telling people what the truth is. Where there is illegal immigration, we deal with that. We’ve got a new borders agency, we’ve got a bio-metric visas, we’ve got identity cards for foreign nationals coming to the country, a far better system than before but where we have skills that are needing to be met in our economy, we are not taking the view of the Conservative Party that you put a crude cap or quota on all non EU workers coming into the country. We are saying that we should do it by a points system, which I think people see as fair.

Nihal: Prime Minister, why do you think the British National Party are more of a force than they were when the Labour Government came in in 1997? Is that a failure on your part, on David Cameron’s part, on Nick Clegg’s part, the fact that you haven’t managed to satisfy the needs of your core constituency and also, our listeners, British Asians, are worried by the rise of the British National Party, especially my parent’s generation?

PM: Well you know what truly matters about a person, you know I follow Martin Luther King, it’s not the colour of your skins, it’s the content of your character. And I think it’s the job of decent people from every party to expose the BNP for what they really are. They are trying to exploit peoples concerns about immigration and housing, they use them to push their own ideology which is based on race. That ideology of the BNP is totally wrong, and it’s got to be exposed. It’s also not British, because our fathers and our grandfathers fought together in a World War to defeat an ideology based on race.

Nihal: Is everyone who is considering voting for the British National Party then Prime Minister, a racist?

PM: No I didn’t say that and you know I didn’t say that.

Nihal: Well are they, because I just want to know why then they are voting for those people. It’s fine for you to quote Martin Luther King but what about for those people in Barking. Asian people that live in Barking, black people that live in Barking, that are now looking like, the British National Party may do quite well there.

PM: I think you’ll find that the British people are far more sensible about the future and I think they see through an ideology which is based on race, and my point to you is that when people look in-depth at the ideology of the British National Party about the views that they stand for, about the constitution they had until the courts forced them to change it, which was a constitution that was emphasising an ideology based on race, then the British people will see that it’s better to vote for other parties and better to vote particularly for parties that are going to offer the jobs and the housing and the answers to the questions that people have and the concerns that they have.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Artist S Ravi Shankar at The Noble Sage in London

The Noble Sage Art Gallery, the first gallery in London to specialise exclusively in Indian contemporary art, has announced its latest exhibition, ‘Tableau’, featuring new works by S. Ravi Shankar. This will be Shankar's first solo exhibition in London and third exhibition that he has participated in at The Noble Sage. Shankar’s dramatic black and white pen drawings tell of daily life in India, the different facets of human personality as well as his surreal dreams in equal measure.

Born in 1960 in Chennai, Shankar admits that he wasn't naturally drawn to art as a child. There was 'no burning desire'. Ravi was prepared for engineering though his mind was elsewhere. He remembers fondly the fishermen's children in the area; the wonder he felt at their adventures at sea. It was the first imaginative door opened by Shankar. Little did he know that these real life/dream life experiences of a human's personal world would one day be a feature of his art.

In 2005 Shankar left the world of colour behind him and set about creating a series of bold, large, black and white pen drawings on paper. The result was an astonishing series of highly skilful, and not to mention, cryptic figurative works. His works related back to the dramatic regales of the sea told by his childhood friends, sharing the same enthusiasm for the real life around him though with a mature nod to the importance of memory, dream, experience and personal interpretation on all ‘real life’ that happens in the world.

This solo exhibition shows S. Ravi Shankar’s continuing to use the surface meaning of real life as a starting point for his art. Shankar insinuates in this new body of work that this fabric of real life becomes increasingly complex when one describes real life in terms of what one believes, thinks, dreams, desires or imagines. Questions mount on the back of further questions when one investigates his work. One starts to understand that Shankar’s art does not let us take anything for granted, not real life or dream life. Surface is everything and nothing at the same time. The real question is how deeply we choose to or are allowed to penetrate and probe.

Ravi Shankar's solo exhibition, 'TABLEAU', will run from the 28th April to the 16th May 2010 with the Grand Opening taking place on 29th April. If you would like to attend this event, email with your request.

Exhibition Listings
'TABLEAU' - New works by S. Ravi Shankar
28th April - 16th May 2010
All artworks for sale; free entrance

Location details
The Noble Sage Art Gallery
2A Fortis Green
London N2 9EL (near East Finchley tube)
The Noble Sage is open Wednesday to Friday 11 - 7.30pm, Saturdays & Sundays 11 - 5pm.
The gallery is free to enter and open to all. The Noble Sage specialises in Indian, Sri Lankan and Pakistani Contemporary Art.
Cristina Oliveira, Directorial Assistant – / 020 8883 7303
For further information about The Noble Sage Art Gallery, please visit