Parvez (Om Puri), the middle-aged Pakistani cabdriver in the marvelous My Son the Fanatic, moved to the industrial north of England 25 years ago with his wife, Minoo (Gopi Desai), and, against the evidence of his eyes, still sees his adopted country as a fabled and pleasant place. He’s a naïf who has internalized the rewards of Empire far more than have the native English. When his only child, Farid (Akbar Kurtha), who still lives at home, drops his white fiancée, forsakes his possessions, and becomes an Islamic fundamentalist, Parvez is stung by this renunciation of his own dream; at first he thinks the boy must be on drugs.
Hanif Kureishi, who wrote the screenplay based on his New Yorker short story, doesn’t frame this conflict as a generational grudge match. It’s more like an upside-down father-son love story in which the usual sides are reversed: The father is much more liberal than the son. Kureishi, with the director Udayan Prasad, understands the allures of orthodoxy, the way it can focus rage. And yet when Farid brings a Muslim priest and his followers to live in their home, and Minoo is quietly shut off from the dining room to eat alone, the consequences of that orthodoxy seem unutterably sad. Parvez is dumbstruck by his son’s fanaticism and begins to confide in Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), a prostitute he’s been ferrying around on assignations. The relationship that develops between them is so acutely observed that what might seem odd instead seems inevitable – Bettina shares Parvez’s despairing, triumphal sense of what their lives could be like. Bewildered by what their country has become, they are the true inheritors of England’s dashed glories.