My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Thirty-six years ago today, the film My Beautiful Laundrette premiered. Career-Launching, ground-breaking, beautiful. You have to see this movie.

Title: My Beautiful Laundrette
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Produced by: Sarah Radclyffe
Written by: Hanif Kureishi
Starring: Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke, Shirley Anne Field
Music by: Stanley Myers, Hans Zimmer (as Ludus Tonalis)
Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
Edited by: Mick Audsley
Production Company: Working Title Films, Channel Four Films
Distributed by: Mainline Pictures (UK), Orion Classics (USA)
Release date: 7 September 1985 (TIFF), 16 November 1985
Running time: 97 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English, Urdu
Budget: £650,000 (estimated)
Box office: $2,451,545

Omar Ali is a young son of Pakistani immigrant parents living in Battersea in the Wandsworth area of South London, right by the railway station during the mid-1980s. His father, Hussein, once a famous left-wing British Pakistani journalist in Bombay, lives in London but hates Britain’s society and its international politics. His dissatisfaction with the world and a family tragedy (his wife killed herself) have led him to sink into alcoholism, so that Omar has to be his caregiver. By contrast, Omar’s paternal uncle Nasser is a successful entrepreneur and an active member of the London Pakistani community. Nasser has a wife and three daughters, but also a young mistress named Rachel, . Papa asks Nasser to give Omar a job and, after working for a brief time as a car washer in one of his uncle’s garages, he is assigned the task of managing a run-down laundrette and turning it into a profitable business.

At Nasser’s, Omar meets a few other members of the Pakistani community: Tania, Nasser’s daughter, whom Nasser wants to marry Omar, and Salim, who trafficks drugs and hires him to deliver them from the airport. While driving Salim and his wife home that night, the three of them get attacked by a group of fascist and racist street punks who call them “dirty wogs.” Their apparent leader turns out to be Johnny Burfoot, Omar’s childhood friend, who is homosexual. Omar tries to re-establish their past friendship, offering Johnny a job and the opportunity to adopt a better life by working to fix up the laundrette with him. Johnny decides to help with the laundrette and they resume a romantic relationship that (it is implied) had been interrupted after school. Running out of money, Omar and Johnny sell one of Salim’s drug deliveries to make cash for the laundrette’s substantial renovation. Johnny makes Omar into his homosexual lover, but at the same time Omar is Johnny’s employer and his boss.

On the opening day of the laundrette, Omar confronts Johnny about his fascist past. Johnny, feeling guilty, tells him that though he cannot make it up to him, he is with him now. Nasser visits the laundrette with his mistress Rachel. As they dance together in the laundrette, before the ribbon-cutting, Omar and Johnny make love in the back room, narrowly escaping discovery by Nasser. At the inauguration, Tania who has been invited by Omar, confronts Rachel about having an affair with her father. Rachel accuses Nasser of having invited Tania on purpose to have her insulted, and storms off despite his protests. Later that night, after being pushed by Nasser, a drunk Omar proposes to Tania, who accepts on the condition that he raise money to get her out of her father’s house. Soon after, Salim reveals to Omar that he is on to him and Johnny, and demands his money back. Johnny returns to his punk friends. Omar’s father stops by late in the night and appeals to Johnny to persuade Omar to go to college because he is unhappy with his son running a laundrette.

Offering Salim a chance to invest in his businesses as a much needed ‘clean outlet’ for his money, Omar decides to take over two laundrettes owned by a friend of Nasser. Salim drives Johnny and Omar to view one of the properties, and he expresses his dislike of the British non-working punks in Johnny’s gang. He attempts to run them over and injures one of them. Meanwhile, Rachel falls ill with a skin rash apparently caused by a ritual curse from Nasser’s wife, and decides it is best for all that she and Nasser part ways. The next day Tania drops by the laundrette and tells Johnny she is leaving, asking him to come along. He refuses, implicitly revealing the truth about himself and Omar and she departs wordlessly. After Salim arrives and enters the laundrette, the punks, who had been lying in wait, trash his car. When he runs out on noticing them, he is ambushed and viciously attacked. Johnny decides to interrupt and defend him, despite their mutual dislike, and the punks turn their attention to him instead. As he refuses to fight back, they beat him savagely until Omar returns and intervenes, protecting Johnny as the punks trash the laundrette and flee the scene.

Nasser visits Hussein, and the two discuss their respective failures, agreeing between them that only Omar’s future matters now. Nasser sees Tania at the train platform while she is running away, and he shouts to her but she disappears. Meanwhile, at the laundrette, Omar nurses Johnny, and the two bond. The film ends with a scene of them shirtless, playfully splashing each other with water from a sink, implying that they are continuing their relationship together.

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