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[whitespace] Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths
It's Fundamental: Pals Parvez (Om Puri) and Bettina (Rachel Griffiths) both find themselves targets of Parvez's son's newfound piety.

Taxi Driver

Angry fundamentalists perplex a worldly cabbie

By Richard von Busack

GROUCHO MARX once claimed that he was stopped by a priest. The priest said, "Groucho, I want to thank you for all the joy you've put into the world." "And I want to thank you for all the joy you've taken out of it," Groucho rejoindered. In My Son the Fanatic, Parvez (Om Puri), a hard-working but easygoing Pakistani cab driver, has the joy taken out of his life by religious zealots. His son, Farid (Akbar Kurtha), as assimilated as a Pakistani can ever be in England, becomes an insufferably pious Muslim. His father's form of relaxation--Louis Armstrong records and Scotch--are now anathema. Farid moves a holy man into his parents' house, complete with the holy man's gang of assistants. Farid's mother, Minoo (Gopi Desai), is moved by all the old-time religion to don the veil and seclude herself.

The religious hotheads decide to campaign against what little this unnamed North English city has to offer in the way of sin: a two-block-long red-light district. The problem is that the local hookers are a source of income for Parvez, who sends customers their way. Moreover, the prettiest of the girls, Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), is a chum of the cabby. Caught between his son's religion and his own happiness, Parvez puts it bluntly, "I am stuffed far up the rear end."

Based on a story by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), this vignette is full of mordant humor. At some angles, Puri looks like Humphrey Bogart, with a face like five miles of bad subcontinent road, an underdog who might have a bite or two left in him. Like the taxi driver in that other movie, he is just waiting to explode. As Bettina, Griffiths--who copped an Oscar nomination for Hilary and Jackie and plays the convincingly tough vagrant in Among Giants--is even better. Observe her alertness and fine timing in her handling of the few lines of dialogue that explain how she got into "the life."

A too-easy ending betrays the made-for-TV origins of this otherwise evocative, smart film. (And Stellan Skarsgaard overdoes it badly as a swinish businessman, a regular customer of Parvez's.) Though director Udayan Prasad does see the humor of the son's mulishness, this bitter comedy doesn't evade the question of why someone would renounce the world to seek purity and acceptance in a religious group. Double-edged and entertaining, My Son the Fanatic is not specific to England but universal to anyone who's had a friend, a lover or a child take the joyless path.

'My Son the Fanatic' (R; 87 min.), directed by Udayan Prasad, written by Hanif Kureishi, photographed by Alan Almond and starring Om Puri, Akbar Kurtha and Rachel Griffiths, opens Friday in San Jose at the Camera 3.

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From the September 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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