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An Evening With Hanif Kureishi


An evening with Hanif Kureishi by Nalini Solanki

The BBC Asian Network brought us the opportunity to meet Hanif Kureishi and to get to know the astonishing writer whose work is inspired by taboo subjects and who has the ability to make such issues seem normal. Hanif has many talents to add to his spontaneous personality, including playwriting, screenwriting, writing novels and filmmaking.

Hanif’s roots start from Bromley Kent, where he was born in 1954, coming from a mixed background his dad being Pakistani and his mum English. He has been brought up within two cultures, which shows in his writing whether for a play or a screenplay. After Hanif studied Philosophy at King’s College, London he then started to write his first play called 'Soaking the Heat', which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1976, and was followed in 1980 by 'The Mother Country,' for which he won the Thames TV Playwright Award. In 1981 his play 'Outskirts' won the George Devine Award and in 1982 he became a Writer in Residence at the Royal Court Theatre. From an early age Hanif has become quite renowned for his fantasy but somewhat realistic writing.

Starting to become recognised within the writing circuit, Hanif’s biggest success to date was his screenplay for the film 'My Beautiful Laundrette,' which was directed by Stephen Frears and was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was well known for its depiction of a homosexual relationship between a gay skinhead and a young Asian man. He also wrote screenplays and directed for 'Sammy and Rosie Get Laid' (1991) and'London Kills Me' in 1991.
The ‘Buddha of Surburbia’ finally brought Hanif fame on the writer’s circuit and won the Whitbread Prize for best first novel in 1990 and was made into a four part drama series by the BBC. 'Buddha of Surburbia' starts off with “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred almost”, Hanif creatively creates this character that could be some aspects of him, but twists it by focusing on his disappointed father, in which the impression deepens by Roshan Seth’s exquisite performance in Roger Mitchell’s TV adaptation.

Following this success he published his second novel ‘The Black Album’ in 1995, which was not as greatly appreciated by his younger audiences as he might have liked it to be. However, after reflection, Hanif turned to writing about relationships and thus produced 'Love in a Blue Time' in 1997. The main themes in this novel focus on the desires of middle life, doubtful love, corrosive loss and fragile hope. This book was a great way of expressing what may be interpreted as his own feelings and life experiences through another person. When comparing Hanif’s first novel to his more recent work, it is clear that his way of thinking has changed over time. Hanif carefully depicts concurrent issues within his writing. An example of this is well illustrated in his next novel 'My Son the Fanatic' which was made into a film in 1998 causing controversy within some communities. The novel describes a bacon butty loving taxi driver with a religious son who worships the Islam faith and has an English girl as his street walking lover. Also, the taxi driver’s wife walks out on him as he puts himself before the family. The film shows issues that we tend to keep under wraps such as affairs and personal thoughts.
In the same year his third novel 'Intimacy' had been both published and adapted into a film in 2001. This novel brings home to Hanif as this is what he did in his personal life. 'Intimacy' is about a single night of heart searching; the main character decides to leave his wife, home and children for a much younger woman. Most people can relate to this book because it has happened to them or they know someone whom has had similar experiences. The story explores the excitement of another life, sexual desires and an escape route for what they are trying to avoid. Most of Hanif’s novel’s and films are explicit and go into depth.
In 2000, Hanif published a collection of 40 short stories entitled 'Midnight All Day', this novel introduces 40 characters who have new girlfriends, old worries, drug habits and a mid life crisis that looks set to become a whole life crisis; once again do you think Hanif is reliving his youth?
His fourth novel soon followed in 2001 called 'Gabriel’s Gift' which tells the story of a 15 year old schoolboy whose artistic skills enable him to survive the trauma of his parents separation. After this novel, Hanif then carried on writing short fiction collections and non fiction, reflecting on writing and politics, and working on play writing such as 'Venus' (2007). In the same year Hanif was awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to literature and drama, and with a non-stop career his fifth novel has been published this year with'Something to tell you.' In which Hanif kindly read a passage out of his latest novel during his radio interview.

An audience with Hanif Kureshi was organised by the BBC Asian Network, where Niki Bedi interviewed Hanif on his work and life, and this event gave the audience the opportunity to ask the talented writer a few questions. The event took place in the Adult Learning Centre and was part of the Leicestershire Libraries reading week event.

In true celebrity style Hanif got delayed or should we say its in his blood of Indian timing! But the wait was worth it, Hanif was very comical, and did not give anything away; very mysterious, which kept the audience fascinated.

Niki described Hanif’s background of writing and the themes that follow through his writing with race, sex, nationalism, immigration, and sexuality.
Hanif’s new novel 'Something to Tell You' is about a murder that has taken place, it involves a lot of characters and scenes in which it reveals what guilt can do to the characters in the book, and how this serious change can affect all the characters and their lives.
We then moved to the cover, the cover has lots of small naked bodies in a variety of sexual positions adding to the erotic style of Hanif’s writing. Hanif seemed surprised or maybe amused when Niki mentioned this, but from his facial expression you could tell he knew, but wanted to know what Niki and the audiences reaction would be.

With this in mind, Hanif read a passage from his latest book to give us a flavour of what to expect. He then moved to the interesting part of the evening, which was question time where we get to find out what Hanif’s thoughts are and to find out more about his writing and him, but the burning question is, did we really find out what Hanif is about? We’ll see with the themes that are covered.

The first question that Niki asked was did Hanif have a poster for inspiration, or where does his inspiration come from. Hanif jokily said he has a poster of Kate Moss, but his real inspiration had come from his character Jamal where he can keep secrets and loves to listen to them also. He then explained how he builds characters for his books, in which he uses real lives and his surrounding friends taking in their personalities and their secrets, he said that his friend’s worry, as they do not know whether they will be exposed in his book as well as their secrets. The whole idea is how you can keep a secret and what leads to it, such as temptation, dishonesty, the stress of keeping the secret. Hanif brought the subject of Freud, and talking about sub conscious and how body language shows symptoms of headaches of keeping that secret. Then Niki asked whether he was interested in Freudian analysis, and the answer was yes, he could relate to it, in terms of writing links to how feelings are being expressed, and everything is therapy such as eating crisps, football, etc. Psychotherapy is very powerful and intimate. Hanif extended this by sharing his wisdom, as you learn that as a grown up your not that important, however what matters is that people lead their lives and value themselves.

The question then moves onto chapter 16 where Hanif cleverly writes bits of his own personality and distributes it to all his characters in the book, (self-representation). And using his psychological knowledge he talks about psychotics and explains how many writers are these as they can write creatively and carry on writing whereas neurotics tend to have a writers block.

We then go back to his main theme, which is guilt, and how we carry it and how people feel guilt do they actually experience it, also when they haven’t done it themselves. For example when parents argue it is not the child’s fault but its part of childhood you think your presence is damaging others around you, but really your affecting yourself.

After leaving us thinking and amazed Niki then offered the audience a chance to ask Hanif questions. The first question that was asked was 'how do you develop your screenplay?', Hanif's important tip is was that you have to learn to hand your work to the television companies. Hanif’s first screenplay was commissioned by Channel Four for ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ it was difficult because when they change or act it out then you only have a little input. However Hanif was very lucky with 'Buddha of Suburbia' where Hanif gave input into the music, set, casting, talking to actors and setting the scene. This was a wonderful experience for Hanif to see his work put into action.

A topical question was raised about religion and hanif's perception of it, he described religion simply as a family like cult which causes tension, which is why Hanif is an atheist, but he can understand how people can believe in God. Hanif did experience a lot of disapproval from the Muslim community especially with ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ for which he explains how it is his job to speak freely, cause an argument and start a discussion, otherwise it would not have been interesting.

The next question was regarding his aspirations after completing his degree, he gave time to his writing. He was only brought into the limelight following the success of ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, he was determined to continue to write and become successful. It takes a lot of hard work and it did eventually pay off.
But a lot of it you have to do it yourself in terms of bringing creativity into your writing, you need to be self inspired, looking out the window, music, the buzz, the new ideas to get your teeth into. A good thing is when you express your feelings and it shows in your writing that’s what makes a good book, writing is powerful in terms of this.

Whilst sitting there in the audience, there was so much to take in; lots of fascinating information and a strong inspiration to try your own hand at expression on paper. When you have that passion to write the world is your oyster!

For those who want some tips in building a writing career here are some words of wisdom from Hanif:

- You really have to stick to it
- You need inspiration within yourself
- Your individuality is key, your voice put as much of yourself in the characters, create characters that really stand out and have independent lives.

If anyone has any comments on the evening or have read or seen Hanif’s screenplays let us know what you think.