Desi Rascals: A Slice of British Asian Life

I’ve been using the extra time that has been made available to me, courtesy of this unprecedented global lockdown, to catch up with movies and television programmes that I was either a) meaning to watch but never got round to it, or b) started to watch but never got to finish it due to Life taking over.

Desi Rascals, a structured reality show based on a small group of London-based British Asian families, made by eminent filmmaker Gurinder Chadha, is one such programme that I had started watching when it first aired on TV, way back in 2015, but I’d never got round to finishing it.

Five years hence, I was pleasantly surprised to see both Series 1 and 2 were available to watch on Amazon Prime Video and I’ve since binged through it all over seven consecutive evenings.

While I do think that Series 1 was more engaging than Series 2, I think there were quite a few important pointers that struck me across both series that should have resonated with whoever watched it properly.

Strong, culturally-balanced characters

The first series started with a Gujarati wedding happening in London between Prakash and Shreena Vara. Both come from strong family backgrounds and I love the way they are at ease with living out core British and Gujarati cultural values. I like Shreena’s story; how she finds her move from Harrow to Hounslow to be “different worlds” (I’ll say, I’m a Hounslow lass myself); how she adjusts to married life and the in-laws, how she feels homesick but still puts a brave face on being there for her family and friends.

Prakash, Shreena’s husband, is a decent, adaptable chap and does a good job of managing the emotional tensions between his wife and his parents, when they decide to move out of the family home.

Anj Baig also has strong family roots, balancing his British and Pakistani cultural values equally. He doesn’t shy away from speaking in Punjabi with his mother and uncle whom he clearly has a lot of respect for and neither is he hesitant from mixing with the families of his British and British Asian friends. The way Anj guides and protects his younger brother, Moses, is also very sweet.

Culturally adaptive parents

Manoj and Celia Shah are an awesome couple in my eyes. Their love for each other has carried them through the challenges that an interracial marriage can bring. Not only do they love and cherish their daughters, Natalie and Jo, but they are also warm towards the other youngsters whom they open their homes to during the programme. While Manoj is a softie and a Gujarati at heart, the way he comes to terms with the fact that his daughters may not marry “nice, Gujarati men” on television is commendable.

I found it interesting to see how Celia mothers her daughters and Anita (Prakash’s mother) mothers her sons. While Celia is happy to let her kids leave the family home to go and discover themselves (Jo goes to Mumbai on a three-month Bollywood acting course), Anita struggles with Prakash and Shreena moving from Hounslow to Croydon! Whether this difference is more to do with their personalities rather than cultural backgrounds is worth debating though.

In Series 2, I found Harjit quite intriguing in how she removed the “nazar” (i.e the “evil eye” or negative vibes) from Moses and Farah while speaking to them in English in a flawless British accent. It goes to show how some values hold firm in our cultural cores, something which people belonging to multicultural families will understand.

Owais Khan: not such a “big, bad wolf” actually.

I honestly think Owais got a lot of unwarranted flack from his mates because of the clashes that happened between him and two girls: Rita Siddiqui and Feryal Khan.

It’s admirable how he has made something of himself whilst living with a speech impediment and the conversations he had with his mum about his inner struggles definitely won my empathy for him.

Sure, he could have stopped himself from pointing out the blatant truth to his mates and those girls, and he probably would have if this programme was a fictitious drama. But it isn’t.

I also found it very amusing the way Adam Michaelides and former The Apprentice contestant Solly Akhtar were clearly weary, nay a tad intimidated, by Owais’ looming presence and couldn’t-give-a-toss attitude in Series 2.

Lost in Manipulation

This brings me on to my analysis on a few of the girls featured in the show: Rita Siddiqui, Feryal Khan and Jasmin Walia.

All three girls are pretty, educated and have a lot going for them. From what I see online, all three of them have indeed moved on and are doing well for themselves, which is great.

But during the show, there was a chemistry between Rita and Owais which both ultimately chose to do nothing about. So, when Feryal is set up on a date with Owais and he introduces her to his friends, including Rita, things turn messy. The way Rita used her charm and to make Feryal push Owais from her is something that raised my brow! She didn’t want to date Owais, but neither did she (on some level) want Owais to be dating someone else — and she achieved this quite sneakily!

The way Feryal got in between two good friends, Yasmin Karimi and Kavita Mehta, leaves me thinking she could have managed it better.

In Series 2, we see Jasmin Walia, who I gather had appeared in The Only Way Is Essex and is now an award-winning Bollywood singer. In the show, she comes across as a clingy, teary girlfriend and a thunder-stealing ‘friend’ to Jo Shah during her audition for a Bollywood acting course. Maybe it was the immaturity that comes with youth. All I wanted to do was shake her and tell her to get a grip of herself! But I am glad to hear she’s doing well now.

Love unrealised

The sweet romance that bloomed between Moses Baig and Jo Shah (or MoJo as they were known as then) in Series 1 made for engaging telly. It’s a pity the fairytale ended between them, although the send-off Moses gave to Jo right at the end of Series 2 was lovely. Theirs could have been a love story that lasts if they were strong enough to fight the odds: meddling parents, different cultural backgrounds, different ambitions and different expectations from each other.

Another couple who simply missed the potential romance that could have happened between them was Adam Michaelides and Yasmin Karimi. Both were affluent, arrogant and successful. Both regarded each other as more than friends. Both snubbed each other to the point of tears. Oh dear.

The bottom line

I don’t think I have written such a detailed TV review in a long time and that’s only because Desi Rascals had a lot to say and much of this stayed with me as a British Asian myself.

The show was high in realism and not all loose ends were neatly tied up because, after all, this isn’t a work of fiction.

Sudakshina (Kina) Bhattacharjee is a commercial writer, a qualified journalist, a published author and a digital content marketer. www.sudakshinakina.com

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