For a man whose career is marked by films that defined the urban Scottish coming of age experience (“Trainspotting”) and cult fanaticism (“The Beach”), English director Danny Boyle has also given the world some very interesting takes on South Asian heroes.
Beginning with 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” he brought a host of South Asian faces to the international arena. At that time, an English language movie set in India with a cast of South Asian actors was almost unheard of.
The movie gained critical acclaim with the international audiences and even won eight Oscar Awards. However, in India it wasn’t quite a favorite since it portrayed the country in what could be termed a clichéd way, shining more of a spotlight on its poverty and slum life and other stereotypes associated with it.
But, Indians and South Asians were proud and happy to see representation for themselves on an international platform. South Asian audiences also appreciated that their stories could now be brought to a wider public. Danny Boyle also made global superstars of the film’s leads, Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto, who went on to become acclaimed talents, showcasing their range in a host of international movies.
Now, over ten years later, Danny Boyle has once again brought a South Asian face to the international audiences’ attention. The film is “Yesterday” and this time, the actor is Himesh Patel, who, while of South Asian descent, portrays an English everyman, waking up in an alternate universe where the Beatles never existed.
The two movies show how far the international appetite has grown for seeing South Asian faces on screen. The very fact that Patel’s character, Jack, is allowed to portray an ordinary English musician looking for love and fame, instead of more stereotypes, sets it apart. He romances ‘English Rose,’ Lily James. Most importantly, he is the lead in a high concept, genre-defying film, where the story takes place in an alternate universe and to a soundtrack of the beloved Beatles music.
It’s great to see the progress made in cinema culture and see audiences not just accept but embrace as heroes and protagonists those who were once minorities, relegated to being secondary characters and sidekicks. While films like “Bend It Like Beckham” were about the South Asian diaspora, they were very much grounded in the cultural tropes that tend to be very hard to shake off.
But with films like “Yesterday” to look forward to, in the deft hands of filmmakers like Danny Boyle, the future looks brilliant for South Asian faces on mainstream silver screen.