Ae Fond Kiss..

We all populate different selves. There are many persons within us. I am the introvert who does not talk very much, but I am also the energetic, gregarious one when the topic excites me. Apart from having many persons within us, perhaps all of us also have many cultures within us. I was brought up in a Muslim family. All my life I have lived in a predominantly Hindu country. Since I was a teenager, my spirit nourished itself on European ideas and art – Jung, Freud, Beethoven, Bach and the Beatles. My favourite films were made by an Orthodox Christian from Russia, Andrey Tarkovsky. In my 20s, in my deepest and most personal moments, I have felt closest to ancient Indian religious thought. I have reason to believe that I am not unique in being not just different persons, but different cultures. In today’s times, the modern, traditional, ancient, Eastern, Western, rootless… they all have their seeds within most of us.

It is these themes that are at the heart of the film I saw yesterday – Ae Fond Kiss by the British filmmaker Ken Loach. One of the protagonists of the film, Casim, is the son of Pakistani immigrants in Glasgow. His father has been there for 40 years. Well-meaning and affable Casim is most comfortable in Glaswegian English, and occasionally speaks Punjabi. A disc jockey by profession, Casim asks his younger sister to leave when she and her friends visit the nightclub he works in. Traditional Pakistani girls do not go clubbing. His parents have arranged for him to marry his first cousin from Pakistan in a few months, something Casim is fine with. After all, in Asian cultures, marriage is an alliance of families, a bearer of traditional values, and not just, if at all, a product of two individuals feeling passionate about each other.

Things change when Casim accidentally meets Roisin, the young, sensitive and sincere music teacher in his younger sister’s school. They are immediately attracted to each other, sparks fly, and they are soon in a love relationship. On a weekend trip, after a night of losing themselves in each other’s bodies, Casim confesses to Roisin that he is supposed to marry a Pakistani girl soon. Roisin is totally shattered. Casim is torn between his relationship with Roisin and the dreams his family have for him.

The characters in this film are richly written, complex, remarkably real human beings. Casim’s father, Tariq, lost his twin brother during the violence of the partition of India. Later, he migrated to Scotland and made a new life there as a grocery shop owner, perhaps the most common profession for South Asian immigrants in the UK. He named his only son after the brother he loved so much and lost. “I’ve seen my father stabbed in front of my eyes and almost bleed to death in my own arms,” Casim tells Roisin. In the face of isolation, racist violence, and much else, what has taken Tariq through is his culture, his values, and the close support of his community. And now, Tariq and his wife Sadia want to pass on those values to their children – two daughters and one son.

Unable to accept the prospect of giving up his passionate love for marrying someone he barely knows, Casim tells his family that he cannot go ahead with the marriage. The family is shattered. Already struggling with a rebellious teenaged daughter, Casim’s refusal to marry breaks them further. “I love your brother, Rukhsana,” Roisin tells Casim’s elder sister. “For how long?” asks Rukhsana, alluding to the almost 50% rate of divorce in western Europe. “I don’t know,” replies Roisin.

News of Casim’s moving out of the house and having a relationship with a white girl spreads in the South Asian community. The family faces much shame. Rukhsana’s future in-laws express second thoughts about making an alliance with such a family. When Casim talks to his mother on the phone, all she does is ask in Punjabi, “When are you coming home?” and weeps quietly. Casim struggles to hold back his own tears. Roisin looks at him and wonders if she is the cause of all this suffering.

When Casim visits home, his father shows him the new rooms he has been getting constructed for Casim and his future Pakistani wife, and says about Roisin, “Think of 25 years down the road. What happens when you don’t have your health, your money, your resources, what happens? She’ll kick you out. Listen, don’t let her come between us. We are your parents, your family. We will die for you. You are our only son.” You know he means it. “What about your culture, your values, your religion?” he continues. Tariq may be oversimplifying things, but he has a point about the UK’s reality of the several aged people everywhere, with failing health, living alone and trying to manage their needs, with little more than the State’s funds and occasional visits from their children to rely on – a reality that is perhaps not uncommon in many other modern countries.

“Respect my choice dad, that’s all I ask you,” says a visibly disturbed Casim, and walks away.

What matters more? The culture that has nourished and protected your family for generations, or the culture that you saw at school and college, in the movies – the culture you had to adopt at least partially to be accepted outside the four walls of home? A tragedy for the family you love so much, or a scarring blow to the one woman you have loved passionately in your life? More, can you marry and live happily with someone who does not share your religion, your basic outlook in life?

These questions really beg the deeper question for anyone who is faced with them – who am I? Casim is both. He is the Glaswegian DJ who plans to open a nightclub of his own one day, and he is the soft, responsible elder son, intimately close with his mother, respectfully distant to his father, protective of his sisters, and holding close to his heart the traditional Islamic / South Asian values the family lives by. He has to negotiate and decide which of his identities will be the guiding light of his life. There are no easy answers. Like Casim, all of us have to form our identities out of a rich mix of sources, either consciously or unconsciously. Casim’s story makes this process leap out from being unconscious to conscious. Nobody in Casim and Roisin’s story is clearly right or wrong. Every human being has his own history, his own set of values that carry him through life.

In a scene in middle of the film, Casim sits at the dining table, tears flowing down his face, struggling to say something but unable to. His mother Sadia comes and sits next to him and holds his hand, cupping it between her two hands, and asks him Punjabi what the matter is. Casim tells her in Punjabi, “I cannot go ahead with the marriage.” His love for the woman who holds his hand, and has held it since he was a little infant, and his guilt for loving the woman who sets his feelings on fire, but will never be accepted by his family and community, is evident on his face. Divided hearts, conflicting values, momentous decisions, these are the existential realities of our own hearts that this film evokes.

~ by tdcatss on May 31, 2011.

7 Responses to “Ae Fond Kiss..”

  1. Thanks for another wonderful review. You have me thinking quite a bit with this. I knew a young lady who dated a young man from a South Asia family. They were very young yet, but it did not work out. She had questions for me that I couldn’t answer very well. This would have helped!!! :)

  2. I’m glad I have you thinking :). What questions did she have for you?

    I think love relationships push these situations of conflicting identities to the surface very clearly, but even without them, most of us have to negotiate between various cultural identities. Perhaps this applies a little less to those whose roots are entirely in test.

    I spent a year in England. I have always written a diary, since the age of 12 or so. I write it in English. After a few months in England, I started to write it in my mother tongue Hindi/Urdu for the first time in almost 15 years. There were so few people from back home in India to talk to, and even fewer to whom I could talk to in my native language, and I suddenly felt my diary was much more frank and clear when I wrote in Hindi. Strange… !

    • Thanks for such a wonderful reply. The one question I remember distinctly was about why are mixed faith/culture/race marriages discouraged or even disdained? The reply I gave was based on what I knew from the bible, a scripture that spoke of not being unequally yoked . . .that a marriage needs to be a team effort, both going in the same direction. I also mentioned about how children of these unions might undergo a tough time as well. I hoped to let her see that it wasn’t just about prejudice, that there were real reasons to consider. She wasn’t impressed. ha!
      (This young lady was my oldest daughter. :) She is now married to a young man whose mom is Korean and dad an American Caucasian.)

  3. That was very interesting to read, Debbie. Traditionally, Islam has permitted a Muslim man marrying a non-Muslim woman, but not a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man. This is perhaps because in patriarchies the man’s religion defines the outlook, and yes, the religion, of the family and especially the children.

    I don’t really consider myself a Muslim, but I, like the rest of us, have a way of understanding life – however hazy it may be. That shapes my values, and what I do, and how I interpret my daily experience of life. It would be difficult to have a life partner who does not interpret her experiences in a way similar to mine and has values that are similar too, even though I don’t expect her to me just like me. I may be attracted to someone but would not want to spend my life with that person if we don’t have this shared worldview, or what the Germans call ‘weltanschauung’. that is perhaps the most important thing.

    I’m sure you didn’t speak from prejudice but had real reasons which you cited :)

    It would be interesting how this issue is met with in the life of those who are not religious at all. what do they base their decisions about life partners on? falling in love? or arranged marriage, like in India?

  4. […] Ae Fond Kiss.. ( […]

  5. Awesome review; love your interlinking of the movie with worldviews and conflicts – internal and external. Would want to watch this movie now… Have you watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset? If not, please do and write your reviews on those.

    Also, watch 500 Days of Summer.

  6. thanks for the recommendations… i’m quiet hopeless when it comes to english movies, so i have not watched any of these.. but i will!

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