“The 60s have been given notice tonight.”
Kareem–known as Kreemy (Naveen Williams) to his friends is just a teenager when the film Buddha of Suburbia begins. His father, Haroon (Roshan Seth) is Indian, and his mother, Margaret (Brenda Blethyn) is British. There are rather obvious troubles in the marriage when Haroon starts teaching yoga and his version of the ‘Meaning of Life’ to groups of bored socialites under the guiding influence of well-to-do and lonely divorcee, Eva (Susan Fleetwood). Kareem, is at first, an observer of his parents’ disintegrating marriage, but then the film’s focus shifts to Kareem as he struggles with an acting career.
Buddha of Suburbia is a coming-of-age story set against the rapidly changing social trends of the 70s, so there’s a great deal here to satisfy the nostalgia crowd. With a soundtrack from T-Rex, Gary Glitter, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Pretenders, The Police, etc., the film covers pertinent social themes of the times–drug use, communes, racism (including the presence of The National Front), class wars, the Women’s Movement, and the seductive lures of Punk (fans of the Sex Pistols will recognize the scene involving Charlie Hero which exactly mirrors an infamous interview with the Sex Pistols that occurred in Dec 1976). Against the social backdrop of the troubled 70s, Kareem seeks fame and fortune through an acting career amidst a sea of moral hazards. This ambitious television series tackles the 70s in an epic fashion, and some of the characters here are great creations. Kareem’s cousin, for example, is forced to make an arranged marriage. Her Indian bridegroom is a pleasant enough fellow who adds a great deal of the film’s enjoyment. The marriage, once achieved by gleeful parents, serves as a testament of the trials endured by modern Indian youth whose parents insist on enforcing tradition. Kareem’s experiences in the theatre range from a wacky experimental director to an exploitive ‘serious’ director who uses his actors for more than just the stage. Eva is another great character–her ever-forward gaze pushes Kareem. She sees life as a never-ending journey, and she’s never content to stop in one spot for long.
The film, however, creates Kareem largely as a passive observer. It is as though the 70s roll in front of his eyes leaving marks on his soul, but without him being actively engaged. While I really enjoyed this 220-minute film based on the novel by Hanif Kureishi, it lands solidly in the realm of good-but-not-great films.