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Perhaps more than any other British filmmaker, Hanif Kureishi startled the world with the grim but colorful realities of urban life for the youth culture in Thatcherite England. Born in Bromley, a London suburb, to a Pakistani father and a white English mother, he was the only Asian in his school. Called "Pakistani Pete" by a teacher and spat upon and beaten by classmates he had known since childhood, Kureishi had firsthand experience of the rising tide of prejudice and racial animosity expressed by white working-class Britons in the late 1960s and early 70s. Much of his subsequent work as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist would ponder the complexities of being both Black and British.
Kureishi studied philosophy at King's College at Cambridge, but writing had been his true love since the age of fourteen. With the encouragement of his father, a part-time political journalist, Kureishi penned four unpublished novels as a teen. He began an apprenticeship in London theaters after college and worked at a variety of jobs including box-office clerk, scene shifter, stage manager and usher at the Royal Court Theatre. While writing plays, Kureishi made ends meet by writing pornographic stories for magazines under the pseudonym Antonia French. By 1981, he was writer-in-residence at the Royal Court. Some of his plays, such as "The Mother Country" (1980) and "Borderline" (1981), dealt specifically with the Asian immigrant experience while others, like "The King and Me" (1983), about a young woman's obsession with Elvis Presley, and "Outskirts" (also 1983), about a pair of adult friends who were criminal accomplices in childhood, dealt with more general topics.
Acclaim and controversy came in collaboration with director Stephen Frears on "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1985). Made for English TV, the film was released theatrically and put both filmmakers and actor Daniel Day-Lewis on the international map. This darkly funny observation of ambitious middle-class Pakistanis happily exploiting hostile whites while living up to Prime Minister Thatcher's entrepreneurial ideals actually enraged and embarrassed many Pakistani immigrants in England and the US. They objected to its lack of positive images and some were troubled by the matter-of-fact homosexuality of the young protagonist. There were picket lines around NYC theaters showing the film.
Kureishi and Frears reteamed for "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987), a lively account of the bohemian lifestyles of an interracial London couple in an open marriage. Though a mostly entertaining chronicle of the tensions of sexual, economic and racial relations, the film was undermined by overarching ambition and a lack of focus.
Kureishi published his first novel, "The Buddha of Suburbia," to considerable acclaim in 1990. The following year, he made his directorial debut with "London Kills Me," from his screenplay. This rambling story concerned itself with a marginal group of homeless youth and the drug culture within which they travel. The film received a mixed critical reception from a press that lamented the absence of Frears' practiced organizing sensibility. Kureishi next resurfaced on TV as the screenwriter of an outstanding 1993 miniseries adapted from "The Buddha of Suburbia."
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