In this exploration of Hanif Kureishi's work, Alan Yentob finds that the author takes his duty as national literary nuisance very seriously indeed.
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This programme contains some strong language.
A distinguished Asian writer is about to have his life story told.
All sorts of sordidness will emerge.
He'll be exposed as a vain and philandering tyrant
whose disturbing private life
has fuelled the pages of his extensive, scabrous prose.
"You think you like this writer?", wonders his biographer.
"Well, see how badly he treated his wife, children and mistresses.
"Hate him, hate his work."
Who is this outrageous person?
He's fiction - to a degree. He's the latest creation
of an author who delights in literary provocation,
blurring truth with invention,
who robs the intimacies of his friends, lovers and family
to put into his fictional work.
When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.
Yeah, too bad for the family, you might say.
Looking back over the trail of bodies
and dismembered memories, one wonders what havoc
will he wreak next, the bold but ruthless writer, Hanif Kureishi?
Kureishi is known for his sharp and satirical take
on the big, tough themes of race, family and sexuality.
He spoke for a generation of Asian immigrants
and the complexities of integration.
He foretold the rise of Islamic fundamentalism
years before the 7/7 London bombs.
His work over the last four decades
has consistently upended the traditional immigrant narrative.
If there is a Kureishi signature,
it's a dependable knack of raising hackles.
Being the first to put interracial gay sex on screen.
Relishing taboos on the ageing libido.
Three, I said!
And no licking and burping, you dirty, filthy old shithead.
But Kureishi has also been reviled for raiding his own life
for material to put in his fictional work.
Friends, lovers and family, though never named, are everywhere
and very recognisable in his books.
The Bromley Buddha is a dead ringer for his dad.
His Uncle Omar, the bed-ridden alcoholic
in My Beautiful launderette.
Your sister was a bit mad at you
because she was the whining narcissist,
she assumed she was anyway, in The Mother.
For once, believe! Just say something positive!
Just, you know, make me feel better.
-Don't be so harsh with me.
-I am harsh! I am, I feel harsh.
And then, of course, there's the question of
whether or not Intimacy is a book about you and your life
and your family and the fact that you left your family.
So you take your own story and you use it, abuse it.
Everything is material for you, isn't it?
Writers are trouble, Alan.
If you look at any writer of any value from Baudelaire to Flaubert
to... And then later on, Henry Miller, Lawrence...
A writer is a nuisance.
But you may well turn up in one of my books without your trousers on,
but you should be flattered, seems to me, you're in it at all.
That's what you say to all those people who complain
about being in your books, is it?
Well, I've had lots of complaints
from people who are not in them as well, Alan, you know.
Hanif Kureishi turns 60 this year and has just written a new book.
He's called it The Last Word.
It's a comic novel about two men - a cantankerous old Indian writer
and his young biographer.
The book is fiction, but in typical Kureishi style,
it's already caused a stink about whose life has been plundered,
who this older writer is who has amazed, provoked, annoyed,
and betrayed his way through a long and successful career.
The new book - has it got any relation to reality at all?
Might I recognise this person, by any chance?
It seemed to remind me of a writer called VS Naipaul
and of a book written by a man called Patrick French
about that writer. Would you say that might be true?
I would say that it would be inevitable
that people would think about that,
and obviously I had to think that they would think about that
when I was writing the book.
Erm, I don't know why you find this question interesting, Alan.
What's interesting about it?
The idea that you take something from the world
and make it into something magnificent isn't very interesting.
That's what we do. You've spent your whole life with artists.
You know exactly what goes on and you're fascinated by artists.
Why? What is interesting about that idea?
It's the transformation that's interesting.
The son of a Pakistani father and an English mother,
Kureishi grew up in Bromley in the '60s and '70s,
and escaped to London in his late teens to be a theatre writer
at the Royal Court.
His plays at the time were earnest studies
of race relations in Britain.
I always felt, well, you can't shy away from this.
This is happening to people all the time.
And if you want to write about England,
it's a way of coming to terms with England
because England is very racist.
-I am an old woman! It is the insult...
-For them, we are not human.
-I'm sorry. Sorry.
Racism pervades everybody in England's life, to some extent.
So it's a way of coming to grips with what England is,
it's a way of writing about what England's becoming,
and a way of showing...
I wanted to work out through my writing
why I was a problem for Britain.
Why I was so difficult for them to understand or to swallow.
What I figured out in the end was, and it took me ages to get there,
was that it wasn't me that had to change.
Britain had to change to accommodate me.
Kureishi spent ten years scraping a living as a jobbing playwright
for the Royal Court.
I was living in a council flat in Barons Court Road.
I had no money, I'd been on the dole,
and I just thought, "I don't think I'm really a theatre writer,
"I don't think I can do this, really."
And the whole thing was going a bit belly up.
Then, in the summer of 1981, Hanif's family,
growing weary of his questionable career choice, offered him
the opportunity to find a proper job.
Well, there was a friend of my family who had launderettes,
and he was sent by my family round to see me,
and he used to take me round these launderettes to show them to me.
And I think the idea was that I would help him with the launderettes
or eventually I would take over the launderette business
and that this would save me from the hopelessness of scribbling.
It's nothing but a toilet in a youth club. A constant boil on my bum.
And then I went to Pakistan for the first time.
I used stay up all night, I couldn't sleep,
and I used to stay up all night, and I started to write this story
about these guys that run a launderette together.
And it seemed to me to be a great story about Thatcherism.
You know, this is a joke about Thatcherism
that anybody in Britain can make it.
All right, get started.
-Here's the broom. Move it.
-I don't only want to sweep up.
What are you, Labour Party?
I want to be manager of this place. I think I can do it.
Please let me.
Kureishi finished his insomnia-driven screenplay
in the autumn of 1984, and chancing his arm that he'd get
one of Britain's up-and-coming drama directors to make it,
he went round to a house in Notting Hill,
shoved the script through the letter box, and then quickly ran away.
-No junk mail.
-Glad to see you've been on the bicycle, Stephen.
I was out there with Lance this morning.
Here we are.
Stephen Frears is now best known for films like The Queen and Philomena.
Now, boys, do you want some tea?
But he was directing BBC's Play For Today
when Hanif was too timid to ring the doorbell.
-Do you want PG Tips?
-Yeah, PG Tips is fine.
So do you remember what you made of...
When you saw it, when you read it, what was your first instinct?
-When I realised it was about immigrants,
if I'm being honest, my heart slightly sank.
I know you're not supposed to say things like that,
but it slightly sank.
And then at a certain moment I started to laugh,
and then I was all right.
In other words, it stopped being a sort of bleeding heart film.
I'm saying dreadful things.
I remember coming round here and meeting Stephen
and Stephen walking up and down agitatedly,
erm...encouraging me to make it more outrageous.
To make the language bigger, to make the, er...
To make it ruder, to make it bolder,
and I found that fantastically encouraging and enlivening.
Nobody had ever said that to me before.
It just seemed very, very liberating to me.
Since when he's been unstoppable.
The British cinema before that had been films like Passage To India,
I think David Lean's last film, you know,
and there had been the Merchant Ivory films.
-So these are very heavy sort of old-fashioned films...
..about the Empire and India and so on,
so you come in and make this punky little film about a gay Pakistani...
That's quite a twist on... In terms of the...
Yes. Luckily, I was unaware of this revolutionary step I was making.
To me, it was...
..you know, rebellious and comic and it made me laugh,
it was very funny.
That door you've just taken off. Hang it back.
I'm just a poor man, this is my room! Let's leave it that way!
In My Beautiful launderette, Daniel Day-Lewis's character Johnny,
a one-time National Front activist, now works for a Pakistani landlord.
But this was written from the inside
in some way that nothing had been before.
No-one knew about the Pakistani middle class.
None of us knew about their enterprise, their Thatcherism,
that was all completely new, or it was new to me.
Filthy, imperious swine!
You scourged dog!
Enemy of the third world!
You and your kind, your days are numbered!
Doesn't look too good, does it, Pakis doing this kind of thing?
-What would your enemies have to say about this, eh?
Ain't exactly integration, is it?
I'm a businessman, not a professional Pakistani.
And there is no question of race in the new enterprise culture.
I'll forward your mail!
What about the famous scene, the infamous scene as it was
to certain members of the community - the kiss, the gay kiss?
This is a time, 1980s, when people weren't out
quite in the way that they are today.
It seemed appropriate, and so I really didn't have any sense of...
I didn't feel the hand of history on my shoulder
as Tony Blair would say, it was just a good script.
-Even when you shot the scene?
Dan Day-Lewis says that all I said was, "Who's on top?"
Timber's coming tomorrow morning. Getting it cheap.
I've had a vision of how our place can be.
Why don't people like launderettes? Because they're like toilets.
This could be a Ritz among launderettes.
A launderette as big as the Ritz.
Homosexuality had been illegal.
You know, you could go to prison for being a homosexual in England
and suddenly, joyfully, there were these two men kissing
and previously, as you know in British films,
all homosexuals had only been played by Dirk Bogarde.
And most of them normally killed themselves at the end of the film.
So this was a celebration of this new '80s sexuality,
and of course it made Stephen's career.
It went to New York and when it went to New York
the reaction was quite different from the reaction over here.
In other words... You don't remember, you're looking baffled.
It wasn't, it was a big success.
It was, and yet there were demonstrations.
Oh, well, that's just...
Listen, it's a big city, New York, and there were groups of, um...
..protesting people, yes.
"The product of a vile and perverted mind" is what...
Well, it's hard to disagree with any of those sentiments.
But it didn't affect box office, thank God.
There was a wonderful moment when it went for a certificate
from the censor, and one of them said, "Well, this film is racist,"
and another one said,
"It's written by a bloke with a Pakistani father."
"Oh, well, in that case..."
So, you know, it completely disarmed people because of its origins
and because of its authority.
Authority that wasn't coming from me, that was coming from Hanif
because he knew what went on.
The punky little film about a launderette
was nominated for an Oscar.
Frears' advice to the young screenwriter had paid off,
and from now on Kureishi contrived to be ruder,
funnier and more shocking.
He soon came up with the gutsy comedy he's best known for -
the flippant tale of a mixed-race adolescent growing up
in suburban London.
Karim Amir is the son of an English mother
and a philandering Indian father.
Up for any gratification that sex, drugs and punk might give him,
the boy tries to forge an identity amid the confusions
of liberalism and race relations in '70s Britain.
It's difficult not to associate you
with the central character, Karim, in The Buddha Of Suburbia,
this kind of cocky little bastard
trying to outwit South London's Paki-bashers
and shag his way out of the deathly suburbs.
I remember when I first started to write, thinking,
"How do you write a book about somebody like me?"
My father had come to Britain, and there was this kid, me,
growing up in the suburbs, in love with pop but also...an immigrant,
a Paki, a kid of whom it was always asked all the time,
"Where do you belong?" or "Where do you come from?"
And it was rough down there in South London,
there was a huge amount of racism.
-She doesn't go out with boys or with wogs. Got it?
We don't want you blackies coming to this house.
Have there been many?
Many what, little coon?
-We don't like it.
However many niggers there are, we don't like it.
We're with Enoch.
If you lay one of your black hands near my daughter,
I'll smash it with a...a hammer.
With a hammer!
What's terrible about racism, the claustrophobia,
and I remember the sense of oppression,
the awful sense of being a victim...
what's awful about it is...
how casual it can be.
And it's the casualness of it that is so shocking, how...
You know, the teachers when I was at school were incredibly racist.
I had a teacher that would only refer to me as a Pakistani Pete.
And then I, cos he was Scottish,
I used to refer to him as Jock in return, and then he got mad.
He got really crazy and I got sent to the headmaster.
And then they wanted to beat me for insulting the teacher.
-..Archbishop of Canterbury. In 604, it was created in Rochester.
Wake up, Pakistani Pete!
'So my whole school thing was a catastrophe
'because of events like that.'
But it was an unpleasant experience that got into The Buddha Of Suburbia
and I remember thinking when you have unpleasant experiences,
the only thing you can do is one, write about them,
and two, make them comedies, in a sense.
With My Beautiful Laundrette
and now The Buddha, Hanif Kureishi was establishing himself
as a ballsy social satirist,
unafraid to show Asians as screwed up,
or to ridicule the racist attitudes often held by native Brits.
But then, as the '90s were approaching, something happened
that would de-rail the confidence of multiculturalism
and the status of writers to express themselves freely.
On 14th February 1989,
the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering Muslims
to kill Kureishi's friend and fellow writer Salman Rushdie
for his novel, The Satanic Verses.
The fatwa... A writer writes a book, and a writer is a writer,
he can write about what he likes,
that's what we've been talking about, that's what you believe.
You know, a writer... He's in pursuit of the truth.
And then what happens?
The death threat, the fatwa, other writers killed.
..those writers who pursue the truth are imperilled,
their lives are at risk.
After the fatwa, then there became lots of talk about
the idea of the insult.
You know, the idea of there having to be... Other people having to be,
as it were, protected from your words.
I began to think very hard about the point and place
of a writer in society.
You know, before that we were, you know, you just wrote.
And then after that, it became dangerous to write.
The Salman Rushdie affair took an even more horrific turn today
when an Iranian cleric offered a million dollar reward
for the successful assassination of the author of The Satanic Verses.
A group of writers led by Harold Pinter presented a petition
at 10 Downing Street.
Hanif Kureishi, you presented your petition today. What can it achieve?
Well, as I'm sure you know,
it's bad enough getting a bad review in the Guardian.
Being condemned to death for a book you've written
is obviously a risible matter, if it weren't so deeply serious.
I suppose what we want to do is to impress on Mrs Thatcher
the importance of her trying to persuade the Ayatollah
to repudiate what he said.
If you were Salman Rushdie, what would you be doing now?
I'd be hiding under the bed with a sawn-off shotgun next to me.
Well, after the fatwa, I think we were all frightened.
We were all frightened in the sense that
if you wanted to talk about religion
or if you wanted to talk about radical ideology
you could really get into trouble, you could put your life at risk.
I mean, in a way, one wants to be provocative,
but you don't want people going crazy and wanting to kill you
for saying something that they disliked.
So you, at this point, you write the screenplay My Son The Fanatic.
-Obviously by now, the world seems to have changed,
and you tackle it with your usual disrespect.
I notice with you, you remain in your writing and your statements,
and in your...
everything you do, you remain as fearless, some may say as reckless,
as you ever were.
I'm very proud of My Son The Fanatic.
I think it's a very important film and it's a very good film.
And I was very aware in certain cities, particularly in Birmingham,
that the Muslim community, the drug community and the prostitutes
were all, as it were, living in close proximity to each other.
And the character played by Om Puri is probably a character,
in some sense, like my dad.
I mean, he came over from India,
came over from Pakistan to Britain to do well in Britain and to be liberal.
A decent, hard-working man, likes women, likes to drink, you know.
And then suddenly he wakes up one day
and his son has turned into an arch-puritan.
Bow down, saying, "Allahu Akbar."
Place your hands on your knees and say,
"Subhana Rabbi al-Azeem",
"Glory to my Lord, the greatest," three times.
But there is also a sort of understanding in this
about why this boy might do this, My Son The Fanatic.
He's portrayed, perfectly understandably,
as someone who you can understand why he got there
in some ways as well.
Well, he feels like somebody who will never belong in England.
And in a sense, he really makes a meal of it, makes the most of that,
you might say. He says, "Look, they really don't want us here,
"they hate us here. Why should we try to be like white boys,
"because the white boys hate us?
"What we should do is grasp this new identity",
and as you know, this is a period of identity politics.
"This is my identity," he says.
"I'm a Muslim. Why pretend I'm a white boy?"
Seriously, these English,
you would be a fool to run them down.
-I have been thinking seriously.
They say integrate, but they live in pornography and filth
and tell us how backward we are.
There's no doubt compared to us, they can have funny habits and all.
-A society soaked in sex.
-Not that I have benefited.
In a sense, you might say he's sacrificing his soul for his father,
and it's one of the things I had written about throughout my work,
fathers and sons. He's giving up a progressive identity,
as it were, to be purer than his father and to serve God.
That is the meaning of sacrifice,
and it really freaked out people in the West
because they didn't understand sacrifice by then.
The idea of sacrifice has gone.
In the end, our cultures, they cannot be mixed.
Everything is muddling already together, this thing and the other.
-Some of us are wanting something more besides muddle.
Belief, purity, belonging to the past.
I won't bring up my children in this country.
I remember after the fatwa against Rushdie, I spent time at the mosques
and colleges with these kids, you know, and you think...
You could be Jewish, Pakistani, Indian. Whoever you are,
you've come to Britain. What you want to do is do well for your family,
you know. You want to make money and your children to be educated
and so on. These kids, suddenly, though, are turning to the right.
And they're turning to the far religious right
and they're going to mosques.
You go to the mosque and the women are sitting over there
and the men are sitting over there.
And I remember being in the Whitechapel mosques
and seeing these incredible speeches
by these imams, and they are marching up and down talking for hours
about Israel, about lipstick, about make-up, about gender,
about this, that and the other, incredible performances.
So this wasn't like going to an English church
where a vicar gives you a sermon.
What drew you there? Why were you going to the mosques
to see this happening?
Because I was fascinated by what these people were up to,
what was going on. This was happening nearby in my community.
I used to go to the Shepherd's Bush mosque, you know.
I remember being in a group of young people in their twenties
and the argument was - what do you do if your parents don't pray?
What do you do if your parents aren't observant enough?
How can we deal with the fact that our parents are liberals
or they might drink and they break the basic rules of the Koran?
How can we get them to be more observant?
And the idea was that you put huge pressure on your mum and dad
to be more religious.
What's doing here?
These boys are not welcome here.
They're always arguing with the elders.
They think everyone but them is corrupt and foolish.
But they are not afraid of the truth. They stand for something.
We never did that.
I take it you're not a believer,
you never have been a believer in that sense,
in the sense that you're not religious.
I'm a believer in culture.
Religion is part of culture, right? But it's a small part of culture.
And there's another part of culture that is, as it were,
always pushing the boundaries.
There's another part of culture that says, what are the rules?
And why are the rules here rather than there?
Why can we say that rather than that?
And as a writer, your instinct is to push against the rules to find out,
in one sense, what they are.
But also to find out what you can't say, where you can't go.
And that's in that zone, as it were, of the unspoken,
it gets really interesting.
In 1998, Kureishi stepped up his campaign
to speak the unspeakable truth.
But this time, the truths he chose to betray were not the concerns
of race or culture, but marriage and the break-up of his own family.
"It's the saddest night, for I am leaving and not coming back.
"Tomorrow morning, when the woman I've lived with for six years
"has gone to work on her bicycle
"and our children have taken to the park with their ball,
"I will pack some things into a suitcase, slip out of my house
"hoping that no-one will see me and take the tube to Victor's place."
I'm going to go on because I just want to read this.
"Then this could be our last evening as an innocent, complete,
"ideal family. My last night with a woman I've known for ten years,
"a woman I know almost everything about and want no more of.
"Soon, we will be like strangers. No, we can never be that.
"Hurting someone is an act of reluctant intimacy."
That's so good, Alan,
I'm glad you've decided to read my whole book back to me.
What is the point of reading that back to me?
I'm reading it to you because I want people to hear it,
but also, I'm just asking you...
That's rather beautiful, though. It's rather moving.
There's no cruelty in that, actually.
Well, it's true that much of the book...
What you've read is rather tender, actually.
I agree with you, and I think much of the book is tender,
but the fact that details in that
that are quite clearly details that are recognisably about you
and your family and your children and your wife...
-You refer to...
-All art is exposure, Alan.
Hurting other people might be really important.
Intimacy tells the story of a man preparing to leave his
"nagging, boring bitch" of a wife and their two small children
for a younger woman.
The lines of fiction and autobiography were,
in the eyes of both his family and the press, blurred.
Kureishi had himself recently left his partner and his two young boys.
For a long time afterwards, Kureishi was accused of committing
the worst kind of literary exploitation.
My intention was to write a book about how certain relationships
or certain stages in certain relationships
can make you monstrous,
and that we live in a world in which relationships have to end.
And it's a book about the violence of loss, of waking up in the morning
and looking at someone and knowing that you hate them.
You wanted to reveal the most callous aspects of desire
and what it leads to, and with this book you gave us the line,
"There are some fucks for which a person would have their partner and children drown in a freezing sea."
Any in particular?
That's a wonderful line, Alan. Read that to me...
If ever I doubt my talent, read that to me over and over again.
Obviously, Sachin and Carlo were very young at the time.
What do the boys say about it? About Intimacy?
You can't protect children from the real world.
You give them the drip, drip of the real world as they get older.
And they have to learn, as we all have to learn, that no relationship,
no adult relationship, no marriage, is a paradise.
I'm going to read you this passage also.
"I perch on the edge of the bath and watch my sons, aged five and three,
"one at each end. They're ebullient and fierce and people say
"what happy and affectionate children they are.
"This morning, before I set out for the day,
"knowing I had to settle a few things in my mind, the elder boy,
"insisting on another kiss before I closed the door,
"said, "Daddy, I love everyone."
"Tomorrow I will do something that will damage and scar them."
Hey, guys. How are you doing? Nice to see you.
I hope it's not too squalid. Oh... Thank God your mother's not here.
-She wouldn't like this, no.
-What do you want to eat?
-Fish and chips.
Carlo and Sachin are Hanif's twin sons, now in their twenties
and living and studying together at university.
They were four years old when their dad left their mother
and wrote about the break-up in his novel Intimacy.
I remember you coming into my study once
looking around and saying, "God, is this all you do all day,
"just sit in here?"
And that is all you do all day.
Yeah, well, I make up stuff in my mind.
I'm reading, at the moment, The Last Word.
And like, it's really funny, actually.
Have you read The Buddha Of Suburbia? Sach?
-No, no, I haven't read it yet.
-Are you going to read it?
-I will, 100%.
-It's a good one, it's funny.
-Yeah, I know, I know.
You might be too close or something.
Yeah, I feel like I'm too close to it to read it now.
When I wrote my novel Intimacy, I wrote it really quickly
and I wanted it to be raw, and I just put it out as it was
without much revision because there's something about its rawness, I guess,
that I wanted to leave in.
Have you read it?
No, I certainly wouldn't read it while you're alive
just cos of all the commotion it caused, because it's, you know,
directly about Mum.
So it's quite a raw subject.
And she obviously wasn't happy with it as well.
So... I don't know. I think reading it might...
Well, I'd hope it wouldn't, but reading it might change
my ideas on you and I wouldn't want that now, especially.
I wouldn't say that it was...
..a book about any specific person, but it's about a situation.
You can say that about any of your books...
Obviously, it's not going to have her name as the name of the...
But people know, people can... People knew that it was about Mum.
-But did you not think about it when you wrote it
that we would read it one day? You spoke to Mum about that, didn't you?
-What did she say?
I can't remember.
She said, "Don't let Carlo and Sachin read it," didn't she?
I've never written anything that I would be ashamed of,
-that I couldn't...
-But she's been ashamed of it, though.
Well, I'm sorry about that.
As long as the people liked it, I suppose.
Well, sometimes you have to say things or write things
..I guess on the edge, and that makes them alive, in a particular way.
Have you mellowed, do you think, as you've got older?
I haven't fucking mellowed at all.
I am more annoyed and more bad-tempered and more disagreeable
than I ever was before. And it seems to me
that there are more and more things to be annoyed about
and real things to be annoyed about in the world, actually.
And I think all these fatuous questions you've been asking me
about, you know, "Is so and so offended by this,"
and "So and so offended by that..."
I don't think anybody could live freely or intelligently
in the world at all if they pretended to worry all the time about...
..the feelings of other people.
Since the scarring episode of his break-up novel,
whose truth would Kureishi pursue next?
His subjects, over the last 15 years,
like the writer himself, have changed.
They have aged.
In 2006, he wrote a screenplay about two curmudgeonly old actors who,
with their heady days of stardom and philandering behind them,
are looking for other comforts in old age.
You should try these. You'll never wake up.
It's the waking up pills I'm looking for.
Anything blue, I recommend for that.
White ones give me more of a thrill.
Mmm. There we are.
"Do not operate heavy machinery. Keep away from children."
Here you go, gentlemen.
Excellent, my dear.
In recent years, Kureishi has been loyal
to one significant relationship.
All his films of late have been collaborations with his old friend
and Buddha Of Suburbia director, Roger Michell.
Well, we like each other's company. I like Rog, I like being with him.
And I can do stuff with Roger that I can't do on my own.
And he knows, actually, that the best work he does
is the work that he does with me
and it makes him crazy because he's dependent on me
and I'm dependent on him,
we need each other and we do something good when we're together.
We are a bit like a married couple in that we bicker and we argue
and we... It takes us a long time to evolve a script, doesn't it?
Well, I write what I can and I go as far as I can,
-and then I give it on to Rog...
-Which isn't usually very far.
Which isn't that far, and then Roger gives me a bollocking.
And then I have to try... Roger is astounded by the fact
that I can't guess what he wants.
He seems to think that I should know already what is in his mind
what he wants to shoot,
and then becomes enraged when somehow I haven't been able to do that.
They're evolutions, really. And I always expect something,
something interesting and out of the ordinary.
Foul, vile beyond belief.
What an upset.
Was the bath too cold or the towel too hot? Was the fish overcooked?
Fish? I'd have been lucky to get a fish finger inserted into my rectum.
Venus, it started off, I remember you telling me,
it started off as an account of your grumpy breakfasts.
-So it was really about the old geezers in Venus
-until, bang, arrived this...
-Beautiful young woman.
..this minger from up north.
It's really about how the libido never dies. Oddly enough.
So Peter O'Toole falls in love in some sense with Jodie Whittaker.
And they have a really good time together
and they really say good things, interesting things to one another,
and you might say that is a form of creative, if not libidinous living.
I will die soon, Venus.
Can I touch your hand?
-That's one chat-up line I haven't heard.
-I'm impotent, of course.
I can still take a theoretical interest.
Basically, that's what you take,
is the simple conjunction of two people,
and it's sexual in the widest, broadest sense,
not only in terms of people's bodies, but in terms of creativity.
Or you might say in terms of the creativity of living.
You can touch my hand.
I mean, the one thing that we need, the one thing that keeps us alive,
the one thing that drives us,
the one thing that is worth living for is desire.
That is the motor of life. Desire, libido.
Only with your fingers.
Anything else would make me vomitous.
You know, we're just getting older,
and we're getting older in parallel, which is good.
It's nice to have a kind of ageing buddy
with whom you can compare notes,
aches and pains and ailments and marital issues.
Do you think I am your older brother?
I think of you more as my younger brother
who needs a little bit of looking after and, you know,
needs to be shown to his chair now
and handed the paper and his glasses.
But I give you a shove, I think, with some of the writing.
Yeah, and I think I give you a huge fucking kick up the arse.
Yeah, you do, actually, yeah.
Where did you get this notion of a grandmother having sex
with this sort of, the younger man?
I think I can remember being, this may be a false or screen memory,
being in a restaurant with my mum
and Mum saying about the waiter, who was Indian, of course,
"Oh, he's got lovely hands," she said.
And I thought... "Oh, I wonder what it would be like
to think that nobody would touch you again
"and whether you would mind about that?"
We had been talking about anarchy,
of the trouble that saying certain things causes,
and I thought "What would happen if this woman decides
"that she wants to, as it were, resexualise herself?"
And then you have a story. It's a very simple idea.
this cigarette's made my chest all congested.
Oh, I can't breathe.
And what would happen if you did breathe?
Um, I'd say...
"Would you... Would it be too much trouble?
"Would you mind?
"The spare room's...
"Would you come to the spare room with me?"
Most writing is about the price we pay for certain passions.
It's a very simple idea. What happens if this woman decides
that she wants to be loved by this man?
And what happens to the rest of the family?
What chaos does it cause?
Are you ready?
Hanif and Roger came up with the premise
for their most searing pensionable-age comedy drama
when their producer Kevin Loader
sent them away together on a mini-break to Paris.
What time does the humiliation start?
I think two is the first scheduled meeting.
This time, their semi-autobiographical musings
on the loves and fears of ageing intellectuals
became a film about a couple weekending in Paris
to mark their 30 years of marriage.
-You've got the Euros.
-I've got the Euros, have I?
You never lose anything.
I'll lose you in a minute.
Some audiences have gone to the cinema expecting a feel-good romcom,
only to find, in Roger and Hanif's world, that moments of levity
are never far from feel-bad moments of bruising disappointment.
You know the BAFTA longlist is being announced in ten minutes?
-Have you got a signal?
Well, I've not had a single e-mail, which doesn't bode well.
No. I've got the nominations here.
Make our blood boil.
Well, we don't make it into the Outstanding British Film Award.
Directors are Greengrass, Russell, McQueen, Cuaron, Scorsese.
Roger's always whingeing about something,
as you will have experienced.
Best films are 12 Years, American Hustle,
Captain Philips, Philomena, Gravity.
How about that? A clean sweep.
Guys, there's always next year's Oscars.
That's number 11. Here we go. Number 13, yeah.
Just mention the film a lot.
Same questions, same answers, dude.
How a city like Paris can inspire you?
A couple are taken out of their environment and sent to Paris.
Le Week-End has gone down well with critics so far,
but it's a tough sell. It's about a flagging marriage,
and asks that key Kureishi question -
choose safety of habit
or the thrill of escape and re-invention?
Most stories are about the beginnings of relationships.
Young, beautiful people kissing and making love.
This is about two knackered old people who are tired
and whose kids have left home, who have mostly had their lives
but they know they've got a bit left.
But the real question for any of us in any sort of relationship is,
how do you sustain a relationship?
Not over a year, not over two years, not over five years,
but how cam you sustain a relationship for 15, 20 or 30 years?
As for the author who can't help
but weave his own story into his work,
what are the themes that are driving his writing now?
Anxiety about career? Age? Libido?
-Et l'amour. And love.
-There you go, baby!
Jim Broadbent's character was once a radical
and brilliant academic, but his good looks and career
are disintegrating. He's fearful of what lies ahead.
Is he a reflection of Kureishi's present mood?
I was brilliant at school. Bit of a star at university.
I have to say I'm amazed by how mediocre I've turned out to be.
You can draw, you're musical.
The character played by Jim Broadbent is a rather moving fellow.
It's not too late for you to find another direction.
He's obviously intelligent and kind, a decent fellow.
That makes it much more difficult
for her to betray him or to leave him.
People don't change.
They do. They can get worse.
But then the voice of agitation comes through.
And this time the rebel who makes a bid for selfishness
is Lindsay Duncan's character, a near-retirement teacher
who is fighting for a third act in her life.
What's so amusing?
You're always about to write a book or about to decorate the bathroom
or about to tell me something which will alter our lives for ever.
-But you know what you are?
-Potential Nobel laureate?
You are the postman who never knocks.
And you know why that is?
Please, darling, lighten my burden of ignorance.
I'm not sure you've got any balls.
I really love the character that Lindsay Duncan plays in this film.
It seems to me that she's really funny.
She's really sexy and really lively.
But I've had a lot of complaints from various women
that she's a sort of cold, frigid bitch and rather mean to him.
But I always think that if you were married
to the Jim Broadbent character in this film,
you would become rather sadistic.
His masochism makes things much worse.
People do find it an uncomfortable watch.
Some people have said that they are very pleased
they didn't watch it with their partners. And others are saying
those who did watch it with their partners find themselves
looking at each other in awful recognition
every five or ten minutes.
There's the scene where Jim is on all fours approaching Lindsay
and she's sort of playing with him, toying with him, possibly.
Let me smell you.
Just a sniff.
And if you look at the very end of that scene,
how Roger's directed the actors...
You're a naughty dog.
..it's very telling.
It finishes on a moment of tenderness and playfulness
which is not cruel and dark in the most horrible way.
Other directors might take Hanif's work in a very much kind of crueller
and more manipulative and less tender direction
than Roger takes it.
And you know, that's partly why these films are so wonderful
and will last.
I think I probably ameliorate some of his excesses
and I think that we're good for each other,
I think we're a good combination.
I think you're playing with perfection now.
People say we're sort of Lennon and McCartney, you know,
and that I write the sweet melodic top line
and he writes the sort of angry, rasping lyric.
I suppose there's some truth in that.
Oh, thank you, sir. Just put that there. That's fine.
Great. Yeah, lovely. That's all I want.
See, you're making me look posh, aren't you? Here's this posh bloke
in this fucking hotel eating his fucking posh breakfast.
You don't realise.
It's a very strange life, being a writer.
You spend most of your time on your own
sitting in a room bleeding from the ears, just writing.
Then you come out and you do 20 interviews a day
for at least two days and you go back into your room and write again.
Then you do the same thing in another country.
And then in another country. One day it's a film, one day it's a book.
You wouldn't want this work. You really wouldn't.
It struck me, watching Le Week-End, that these themes of emasculation
don't quite ring true with the Kureishi I've come to know.
Maybe it's neither half of the old married couple
who speak for his current mood.
Perhaps he'd rather we thought of him as the wild
and flamboyant writer who blasts in towards the end of the film,
screaming for attention.
Nick Burrows? No, is that really you?
Under all that terribly un-English passion?
Good God! Good God! Hello, there!
There's this sort of conversation going on between
the Jeff Goldblum character and the Jim Broadbent character.
The Jeff Goldblum character... You know, he's got the kind of...
If you like, the Kureishi spirit.
Well, he's a slightly sort of...
mad and a bit monstrous.
And the monstrous characters are always fun.
He's exactly the sort of person
that I would really be attracted to as a friend
because he's so self-deceiving.
And such a liar, such a cheat and so full of vigour.
He and Jim were big mates at university,
so it's as though you see their lives running together.
That...Jim Broadbent's character thinks, "I could have had that life.
"That could have been me. Would I have wanted that?"
She's going to eat me alive.
I'm not a total idiot.
But, Nick, I was so depressed,
and I was just suffocating, I was dying.
And I was seeing every psychiatrist on the Upper West Side
until I finally found one who, of course,
told me what I wanted to hear. And he released me.
And I slipped away from my wife one morning
without even taking my toothbrush.
It was totally insane, and I wound up here.
But then I decided to do the whole thing all over again.
Love, marriage and kids.
And so now here I am,
enjoying keeping the Mona Lisa fascinated.
And she adores me. Can't see through me.
Yet. But we know she will. I mean, she will.
So am I brave?
Or am I foolish?
He drives through life with this force that is really enviable.
I mean, in a sense, the people you most envy are the people
who don't care. You know, I want to be Francis Bacon.
I just want to live entirely as I live and everybody else can go hang.
-But of course...
-You are so animated when you say that.
But who of us actually has the guts? Who can actually live in that way?
It's such an enviable thing to be able to do.
But of course you and I or everybody in the world is,
you know, nervous and inhibited and worried and anxious.
Why would you put yourself through all that again?
Cos I'm vain. Cos I'm just ridiculously vain.
I want to be adored and waited for and listened to.
'I'm delighted that today we can confirm that we are acquiring
'the personal archives and diaries of Hanif Kureishi.'
'50 personal diaries, drafts of all his major works,'
from My Beautiful Laundrette back in the 1980s
to his most recent work The Last Word,
which is already causing much discussion,
his novel about an ageing writer and his biographer.
Your writing, your work, your papers
are all now part of the British Library.
There's some pretty... Yeah, I sold all my stuff to the British Library,
and I sold my diaries as well.
So it's a picture from, really, the early '70s, you know,
the dinners and the parties, the lovers, the friends, the thoughts.
There's some very juicy stuff in there you'll find.
-Some of it about you, Alan, actually.
-I look forward to it.
Going back a long way.
Is there something... Do you feel in the sense that...
somehow, the British Library,
some might say, this writer who likes to make trouble,
is now sort of being embraced by the establishment?
There he is, he's placing his life's sort of travails
and his story in the bosom of the British Library in Bloomsbury?
Well, it's there as a resource.
And in a sense, you don't know what is and will not be of value
until quite some time has passed and how it will be looked at.
But I think there was a real turning point in the early '80s,
really, with Midnight's Children and My Beautiful Laundrette
when British writing and cinema and culture re-invigorated itself
through diversity, I guess.
And the experiment that we've engaged in in Britain
of creating a multi-racial society has been incredibly interesting
and brave and a strange thing to have done without really
anyone really planning it or thinking about it.
And who wouldn't want a record of that?
It was such an energising, critical moment in our culture,
when you started to write,
when your discoveries and your literary work and your plays
and your films all captured something,
sometimes ahead of that zeitgeist, ahead of it.
Do you feel there's another point in your journey
where you can capture that again,
or maybe the best years of your life are past?
Well, I'm still going.
I can still get it up and I can still write,
and I still want to write.
I don't think... I can't see what sort of question...
What that could mean, in a sense.
What I would... If I thought now that I'd done my best work,
what would that mean in terms of what I did tomorrow?
Would I, as it were, just get up and read the paper
and have a croissant in a cafe and sit down and look out of the window,
or would I carry on working?
I mean, in a sense, the work is the meaning of one's life.
Art is our sex. It's a reason for living, it's where our desire is.
So if you give up on that, you're dead.
I just want to try something else.
Make me look thin and happy.
-If that's what you want.
-That's what I want.
Whenever Hanif Kureishi writes a new film or book, something is broken - a taboo, a confidence or new ground. The Buddha of Suburbia and My Beautiful Laundrette author, who first caused a stink turning his experiences of racism, Thatcherism and sexual transgression into corrosive comedy, has amused, provoked, annoyed and betrayed for over four decades now. It is with some relish, it seems, that the barbed and ruthless writer picks up a pen, and waits as friends, lovers and family take cover, fearing what bitter human frailty might get caught in his satirical gaze.
In the year he turns 60, Kureishi is putting out a new book, publicising his latest film and committing his life's archive to the vaults of the British Library. Alan Yentob might have expected to find him in a reflective mood but Hanif Kureishi is not one for mellowing. He takes his duty as national literary nuisance very seriously indeed.