The most surprising tv moment of the last week was Nitin Ganatra bantering with LL Cool J about exposing his ‘brown buttocks’ on the Jonathan Ross show. He was on the show with Nina Wadia to discuss the controversial storyline of the muslim Masood family on Eastenders; the married son is gay.
Although I’m not a regular viewer of the soap, I was gratified to see Nina and Nitin on primetime tv discussing the portrayal of the Asian families and it struck me how times have changed since Eastenders first began. The Asian storylines seem have been unbelievable on the show, up til now. The Masood family seems to be chiming with audiences (I’m not a regular viewer myself but we have some die-hards in the team).
As Nitin said to JR, ‘We were carrying the baggage of the Asian families that haven’t quite worked’. Too right. So what’s new about this family and why is it working now? It’s certainly not been a lack of good actors, Sudha was in Eastenders and many other fine actors.
In the past the Asian family storylines were often marked by a timidity – the only Asian family in the square, were always carrying the heavy burden of representation. When the show first began there was generally ‘a token gay character’ or ‘Asian character’ – a gay muslim character would’ve been unthinkable. It seems Eastenders has caught up with society at large and realised the Asian families are characters too and given them a juicy plotline that isn’t one that fills the ‘cross culture’ or ‘generation gap’ cliché.
Ross was intent on knowing whether the fact of their own heritage as Indian (non-Muslims) affected their ability to portray Muslims. Can you imagine anyone asking Ian Mckellen if he’s able to play Gandalf straight although he’s a gay man in real life?
They handled that quite deftly and mentioned that actually none of the actors playing the Muslim family are Muslim in real life but joked ‘Don’t tell anyone, they might not believe the acting.’ And they explained that they have drawn on their own heritage of course, having grown up with muslim neighbours and being Asian was very important. Nina and Nitin joked about the possibility of a Muslim family taking over the Queen Vic – now that’s a storyline I’d like to see.