What Happens in the Laundrette, Stays in the Laundrette

by rwalc1 on November 18, 2013 - 8:35pm

The modern age of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has brought with it a modern take on social interactions. In the film My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), director Stephen Frears is frequently able to depict relationships that cross borders. The film’s characters often interact with each other in ways that are against the norm and very often push society’s limits.
Many of these events revolve around the main character, Omar. Omar is first sent to work in his uncle’s shop as a car washer but as time goes on, he is able to convince his Uncle Nasser to let him run the old laundrette he owns. Since Omar sees his old friend Johnny on the street one day and since he needs help running the launderetee, Omar hires Johnny as his right hand man. This in itself shows me a relationship that crosses borders. At the time that the film is set, there are racial conflicts between the white Brits and the Pakistanis who live in London. Since Frears and the writer of the film allow Johnny and Omar to be close friends and co-workers, the conflict between both groups of people seems to be transcended within the walls of the laundrette.
In addition, there is another layer to Johnny and Omar’s relationship. They have a romantic, homosexual relationship that they keep secret. Homosexuality is considered deviant behavior (something socially contested because it differs from what is normally accepted in society) even in many places of the world today. Stephen Frears portrays the significance of this very well in a scene where Johnny and Omar are getting intimate in the back of the laundrette. When they notice Uncle Nasser dancing out front with his mistress, they scramble to get their clothes back on. To me, this would indicate that because of the way gay relationships are looked at in their current setting, the men are afraid to get caught.
Another relationship that crosses the social boundaries is that of Uncle Nasser and his mistress. Nasser is romantically involved with a red haired woman named Rachel, while at the same time having a wife and children at home. Folkways are ways of normal behavior that apply to everyday life. In having a mistress, Nasser is breaking a folkway (that is, the monogamy that is expected of married couples). Just like Omar and Johnny’s relationship, this relationship crosses borders because Nasser tries to keep it a secret from his wife and children, and it is a relationship between a white person and a Pakistani; two conflicting groups in London. Nasser and Rachel also get very nervous and frustrated when they are confronted by Nasser’s daughter, Tania. In my opinion, normal married relationship sets the boundaries of each person involved in the couple taking pride in their relationship, showing unconditional love, and staying faithful. In cheating on his wife, Nasser tries to completely erase and redraw these borders.
Though Tania reacts harshly toward Nasser and his mistress, she too slightly steps over the social lines. Tania is very assertive in courting Omar for a possible date or sexual rendezvous. Nasser and the rest of the family are very supportive of the possibility that Tania will one day become the wife of her cousin. But her being Omar’s cousin does not fracture of relationship borders here, as I would infer that it is acceptable for cousins to marry in traditional Pakistani culture. The reason that I interpreted Tania’s actions as border-crossing is how up-front she is in attempting to seduce Omar. She flashes her bare breasts to Omar through a window mere moments after meeting him and on another occasion she speaks to him in a very sexual manner. Though I can see how this method may be seen as perfectly acceptable or perhaps even revolutionary, to me a normal courtship would involve getting to know the other adult more and conversing on a personal level. When looking at it this way, Tania’s approach crushes the borders of a traditional relationship.
Johnny and Omar are two men engaged in a sexual relationship, of two different conflicting ethnicities, that also share a workplace. Uncle Nasser is involved in an extra-marital affair with a white woman. Finally, Tania is openly sexual and assertive in trying to earn a husband. It is evident to me that Stephen Frears’ film My Beautiful Laundrette portrays relationships that cross borders. When considering how successful this film was in depicting social life accurately, I hope that my peers can view the film with the same approach.

Frears, S. (Director). (1985). My beautiful laundrette [DVD]. United Kingdom: Working Title Films.

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