**1/2 stars 86 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, July 2, 1999
Directed by Udayan Prasad

Starring Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths, Stellan Skarsgard, Gopi Desai & Akbar Kurtha


Pretty selective audience for this one, but if the cultural and generational clashes appeal to you, I say go for it. On the small screen, will play like watching the BBC.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 1/25/2000

Om Puri:
"The Ghost and the Darkness" (1996)

Rachel Griffiths:
"Among Giants" (1999)
"Children of the Revolution" (1997)
"My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997)

Stellan Skarsgard:
"Ronin" (1998)
"Amistad" (1997)
"Good Will Hunting" (1997)
"Breaking the Waves" (1996)

Westernized Pakistani forced to re-examine his life when son becomes religious 'Fanatic'

By Rob Blackwelder

In "My Son the Fanatic," a Pakistani cabbie is forced to face a moral and cultural crisis after 25 years of assimilation into English life in London.

His son has broken off an engagement to a police chief's daughter -- a move the family saw as a step up into white society even though their future in-laws belittled them -- and has joined a fundamentalist Muslim sect, questioning almost everything about his father's Westernized lifestyle, especially his habit of ferrying prostitutes for fares.

A humble and reserved man, Parvez (Om Puri) is at a loss what to do when his family starts to break apart in the wake of this religious upheaval. He begins spending more time in his cab than ever before just to get away, especially after the son offers room and board to his sect's leader -- who takes over the household and regulates Parvez' wife to practical servitude.

Estranged from both his son (over philosophical differences) and his wife (over marital problems stemming from his absence and distance), Parvez turns for solace to Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), one of his client prostitutes who has fallen for him for no other reason than his deep and heartfelt kindness.

With frustration down every avenue, Parvez begins to examine his life -- and he beings to drink.

His son becomes sullen extremist, telling him "You've swallowed white and Jewish propaganda," and Parvez begins to wonder how much of what the boy says is true. His wife has becomes complacent to the Muslim cleric and his entourage. Bettina, who pretends to be a happy-go-lucky girl (although she isn't very good at it) continues to turn tricks, giving Parvez very conflicted emotions on that front. Then there's Mr. Schitz (Stellan Skarsgard), a boisterous creep of a German businessman and a frequent fare, who tips big but is quite ridiculing to Parvez, calling him "little man," requesting Bettina's services night after night and encouraging him to live a more free lifestyle.

His inner conflict comes to a head when his son's activist group begins attacking street walkers, putting Parvez in the middle between his son and his unlikely lover.

"My Son the Fanatic" has a light touch of humor, but it turns on turmoil, not unlike "My Beautiful Launderette," screenwriter Hanif Kureishi's breakthrough film. But while the story is unpredictable, perceptive and strongly-directed (by British TV veteran Udayan Prasad), there isn't much here for the uninitiated. Unless you have some special draw to the cultural conflicts facing these characters, it's just not all that interesting -- aside from the understated but astute performances of Puri ("The Ghost and the Darkness") and Griffiths ("Hilary and Jackie"), who continues to prove her Oscar-worthiness after losing out to Judi Dench at last year's Academy Awards.


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