It is a familiar pastime of the married (and usually South Asian) male: joking about how deeply unhappy he is with the old ball and chain. Writer and actor Ray’s Mr Khan, the titular character in the BBC’s Citizen Khan, is the perfect example of such a man. “Don’t you want your daughter to be happy?” asks Mrs Khan. “Don’t you want her to have what we have?” she persists, imploring her husband to convince his daughter to get married. “Well, which one is it? She can’t have both,” he quips. Cue canned laughter. The show is the BBC’s attempt to dust off and polish the comedic genius of Goodness Gracious Me for a new generation; however, it subsequently loses much of the sparkle of the original, which ran for six successful years.
A six-episode series, Citizen Khan – the BBC’s first South Asian sitcom – follows the lives of the Khans, a family of Pakistani immigrants living in Sparkhill, Birmingham; Mr Khan (Ray) is a self-proclaimed ‘community leader’, his wife Mrs Khan (Sondhi) is the stereotypical British-Pakistani wife (the show opens as she is scrubbing the plastic coating on her sofas), their daughter Shazia (Kapoor) is in love with a buffoon, while Alia (Limbachia) is hiding a secret life of boys and booze from her family. While the channel has hosted a slew of sketch shows and talk shows specifically geared towards a South Asian audience, it is unfortunate that its first sitcom geared towards this audience relies so heavily on stereotypes that have been mined for comedic potential by writers, actors and stand-up comics for decades; ultimately, the show’s one-dimensional characters fail to transcend these stereotypes.
Citizen Khan’s narrative veers between the family home and the local mosque, a choice that does not sit well with its audience — the BBC received an estimated 185 complaints following the first episode, claiming Citizen Khan was a tasteless depiction of Islam, bigoted and offensive. The complaints were focused on the character of Alia, a heavily made-up teenager who pairs her hijab with skinny jeans and pretends to read the Quran while texting on her phone. This sort of characterisation was to be expected, commented some viewers, as the show has been “masterminded by Hindus … with an obvious agenda.”
However, it is safe to assume that a fair number of the show’s 3.6 million viewers heaved a sigh of relief at the first episode — the kind of relief you feel when learning of a terrorist attack that has not been perpetrated by a Muslim and/or Pakistani. Speaking with the BBC, the former secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Yousuf Bhailok, commented that Citizen Khan “is the best thing the BBC has done recently … to change the stereotyped image of Muslims always being serious and shouting that has appeared so often in the media.” Citizen Khan’s satire is ultimately too toothless to wound or alter this image of Muslims and the writers – including Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto who have written for Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 42 – merely retread ground that has been well-covered by a generation of actors, film-makers and writers exploring the conflict between integration or assimilation and the culture of their country of origin.
A Private Enterprise : This British Film Institute production was the first film to depict the lives of Indian and Pakistani immigrants in the UK. Set in Birmingham, A Private Enterprise is the story of an engineer and entrepreneur who dreams of making it big in his adopted country.
The Road: A story of life and death: Showing at the British Film Institute’s film festival this month, this documentary explores the lives of four men and women who have made their way to London from Kashmir, Ireland, Germany and Austria.