Produced by Stephen Frears, “My Beautiful Laundrette” is a social comedy film released in 1985. The film centers around Pakistani immigrants in London who attempt to maneuver through the socio-cultural and political constructs of their lives in Thatcher’s Britain at the time. Through the character of Omar and Johnny, the film delves into important issues resonating in Britain at the time; homosexuality, cultural hybridity/pluralism, ethnicity, as shown within the realms of socio-economic problems in Britain at the time. As a result, the film intriguingly exposes the social and cultural nuances that shape the characters’ lives and advances the plot.
The film opens with a focus on Omar and his family. His father is depicted as a man who has resigned from his social responsibilities and a drunk, who only whiles the day away critiquing the system and its international politics. Omar's uncle Peter is also shown; in contrast to Omar's father, Peter is an enterprising fellow who has built a substantial amount of wealth, as evidenced by his clothes, social life, and an expensive car. As the scene wanes, Omar is introduced to other Pakistanis including Tania, his would-be bride according to the Pakistani customs. As a result, by exposing the viewer to the lives of Omar and his family, the director intended to showcase the socio-economic constructs and social conflicts amongst the Pakistani immigrants, as well as their relationship with the larger and dominant British culture at the time.
The playwright's use of visuals is evident in the film. At the opening scene, there is a juxtaposition between Hussein, Omar father, and his brother Peter. The two brothers, although both Pakistani, live in different socio-economic neighborhoods. This is evidenced by the differences in Peter's and Hussein's residences. For instance, Omar and his father live in a neighborhood South of London, where trains are a menace. Hussein's life mirrors those of the hustling immigrants who are at odds with the disenfranchised Native Britons (Canby "My Beautiful Laundrette"). However, Hussein's brother, Peter, is well-off, as evidenced by his flashy car, a British mistress, and a string of businesses. As a result, Peter represents the class of immigrants who have established themselves in Britain as property owners at the time, capable of bringing themselves to the class of Imperial Britons. According to Ebert (“My Beautiful Laundrette”), the film is an exposition of the socio-economic contrasts at the time, depicting a sharp difference between the rich and the poor. Therefore, through visual analysis, the playwright reveals some of the issues prevalent in Britain at the time.
The playwright used many incidences of mise-en-scene to demonstrate the socio-cultural and economic aspects of life at the time of the film. The first incident occurs when Omar is driving Salim and his wife home; they are attacked by a group of street punks. This attack may signify the hostility of the Native Britons towards immigrants. The dominant Britons may have felt threatened by the presence of the immigrants, who may be gaining economically as compared to the natives. For instance, in the film (Ebert “My Beautiful Laundrette), it is evident that Peter, Omar's uncle, has managed to rise the economic spheres, as evidenced by his flashy upcountry house and expensive car, as well as the ability to hire a native British mistress. As Pascual (64) observes, the xenophobic, racist violence embraced by Johnny's punks is an ambivalent juxtaposition of the immigrants' economic power.
The use of mise-en-scene aids in the depiction of socio-cultural imbalances and power relations between the Native Britons and the immigrants. When the attack on Omar, Salim and his wife occurs by Johnny and his punks, Johnny and his group are seen standing on a higher ground, while Omar and his friends stand on a lower ground, despite being in a car. The two groups are separated by a metallic grill. This scenario shows a sharp social-political boundary between the Imperial British and the immigrants, despite an attempt by the latter to raise themselves up the socioeconomic ladder (Ebert "My Beautiful Launderette"). Furthermore, by standing on a higher ground about Omar, the director attempts to espouse that Johnny and his punks are way above the immigrants (Pascual 64), even though the latter are doing well economically. Therefore, the author espouses the socio-political perceptions and racial stereotypes pervasive in Thatcher’s Britain at the moment.
When the Omar and Johnny are making love, Johnny seems to be always on top of Omar. Although this habit can be looked at literally, it has deeper connotations. The viewer may easily ask, why not Omar on top? After all, he has achieved so much, having turned around his uncle's and Salim's businesses into profitable ventures, and also manages to employ his boyfriend, Johnny as co-manager. Although this point can be brushed off as non-issues, it clearly demonstrates that socio-political and power relations in Britain at the time were thorny. By always being on top of Omar, the film demonstrates that immigrants cannot compete fully with the Native Britons, who have the backing of the system and culture at their disposal. The film, therefore, takes a resigned approach in accepting the social and cultural nuances in Thatcher’s Britain.
In conclusion, through visual analysis and the use of mise-en-scene, the viewer can easily identify the thorny issues of racism, homosexuality, political and power relationships in the socio-economic constructs of the society. This is because mise-en-scene and visual analysis facilitate an easier understanding of the characters, the setting, and the background of the setting, and their juxtaposition to the dominant social issues.