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SOUTHALL IN FILM | The Southall Story


SOUTHALL has played a key role in the production of films in Britain since the early 1920’s. From film production, creative talent and the cinema going public, Southall’s contribution remains unparalleled.

The History of Film in SouthallThe Cinema of Gurinder Chadha

The History of Film in Southall

With the establishment of Southall Studios in 1924 by G.B. Samelson, the first film produced was entitled ‘It Is Never Too Late to Mend’ in 1925 directed by Alexander Butler with film production extending into the late 50’s. With over 65 films produced during 1925 to 1958, Southall Studios produced some notable productions that include ‘Two Little Drummer Boys’ (1928) directed by G.B. Samuelson; Dodging the Dole (1936) Directed by John E. Blakely who also produced the Studios “Two Little Drummer Boys”; Colonel March Investigates (1952) starring Boris Karloff; The Trollenberg Terror (1958) starring Janet Manroe is said to have inspired John Carpenter for his film The Fog. Notable actors associated with the Studio include Joan Sims, Patricia Owens, Dana Wynter, Christopher Lee, Sandra Dorne, Anthony Newley, John Schlesinger, Alfred Burke, Adrienne Corri and and Richard O’Sullivan.

Click here for more information on The Southall Film Studios.

View the documentary of The Southall Film Studios below

Running parallel to the establishment of the Southall Studios saw the building of four cinemas that were spread across the town starting with the state of the art Dominion Cinema (built in )designed by the architect Frederick E. Bromige later demolished in the 1981. It soon became established as a community centre and now runs as a successful arts and cultural centre. Further down from The Green and onto the South Road, the Century cinema opened in 1910 as the Southall Electric Theatre. The cinema went through various name changes settling with the Century Cinema and was the first cinema to show Bollywood films. In 1980 the cinema closed down and the It is now the Tudor Rose bar and nightclub was established. Further down the road, the Chinese styled Palace Cinema, which first opened as New Paragon Palace in 1912. It was not until 1929 that the building acquired its distinctive Chinese style exterior and art deco interior. Designed by the architect George Coles and is now a grade II listed building, and has been renamed Himalaya Cinema showcasing Bollywood, Punjabi and Tamil films. Around the corner from the Himalaya Cinema, stands the Odeon Cinema which opened on 17th August 1936, also designed by architect George Coles, is now a superstore.

During the late fifties, the Indian Workers Association (IWA) used the Dominion Cinema for public meetings, music shows with talent from the Indian sub-continent show casing live shows with stars of Hindi Cinema such as Helen. Other leisurely activities included wrestling matches with famous wrestlers invited from India competing with local talent.

A vibrant cinema-going audience sprung up with popcorn being replaced by Somasas and Masala Chai. Audiences hungry for the latest Hindi movie came from across London saw the beginning of an affluent business community capitalising on this new customer base.

By the mid-1970’s cinema halls were suffering a great loss due to the advent of the video and specialist Indian video shops sprung up everywhere. Innovative video businesses would hire out video machines along with a package of three films for the weekends. Aggressive sales saw some business delivering the video players to woe customers. It is estimated that in the70’s, video machines owned by the Brit Asian public equalled to that of video players owned by households in Japan.

Since the late 1980’s many film makers, playwrights and screenplay writers have made Southall central to their work. These include: Harwant Bains, Gurinder Chadha, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Shakila Maan, Fatima Salaria, Melanie Sykes, Gita Sahgal, Colin Prescod, H. O. Nazareth, Faroukh Dhondhy, Faris Karmani to name a few.

In 1981, Gurinder Chanda emerged as a key figure in British cinema with ‘I’m British But….’ showcasing the underground Bhangra scene. Chadha has gone on to produce iconic films such as Bend it like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. (See below for full biography)

Harwant Bains, a key inspirational figure, shot to fame with his screen play ‘Wild West’ starring Naveen Andrews, making a marking on the film and theatre scene in Southall and UK wide. His ‘Wild West’, released in 1992 caused a stir amongst the local community as well as nationally. The story is set in Southall where a young Pakistani sees himself as a cowboy and has ambitions of fronting a country and western music band – his dream is to go to Nashville. A zany caper, ‘Wild West’ gave many an inspiration to create and produce films.

The 80’s and 90’s also saw an interest from Broadcast television on Southall. In 1982, Colin Prescod produced four films on Black communities in Britain which featured ‘Southall: A Town under Siege’ documenting the uprisings of 1979. ‘A Fearful Silence’ directed by Faris Karmani and produced by H.O. Nazareth for Channel Four, brought to the viewers the work of Southall Black Sisters in a moving documentary on victims of domestic violence. A spate of documentaries appeared on British television with Joan Bakewell’s ‘Heart of the Matter’ for the BBC on the Rushdie Affair and the formation of Women Against Fundamentalism, a group set up by key members of Southall Black Sisters, Gita Sahgal’s ‘Provoked’ for Channel Four brought to the audience the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, Amelia Rossiter and Sara Thornton all victims of domestic violence who killed their abusive husbands in self defence.

In 1999 Melanie Sykes and Fatima Salaria’s produced the ‘Southall Stories’. A TV documentary into the Britain’s Asian community featuring Southall, charted three generations of an immigrant family as they witness social changes across the country.

In 1995 ‘Dil Waley Dulhaniya Ley Jaingey’ directed by Aditya Chopa with Shahrukh Khan, Kajol and Amrish Puri is focused on a Brit Asian love affair faced with difficulties when they want to marry. ‘Dil Waley Dulhaniya Ley Jaingey’ became the biggest Bollywood hits of all time and changed the face of Indian cinema. There was now no turning back for Bollywood films made for the Western Market.

2000 onwards saw an incursion by Bollywood producers; Southall became a mainstay as a backdrop showcasing a thriving Brit Asian community. Stars such as Shahrukh Khan, Shabana Azmi and Priety Zinta became regulars on the streets of Southall.

In 2001 Shakila Maan’s ‘The Winter of Love’ opened the Raindance Film Festival and became the first Independent Brit Asian film produced in the UK with an extensive festival release across the country. Featuring Shiv Grewal, Gurpreet Bhatti and Dev Sagoo, the film is located in Southall. It tells story of a family focusing on intergenerational conflict. The film’s soundtrack is by the legendry composure, Kuljit Bhamra. Maan’s other films to feature Southall include ‘Restless Skies’ and ‘The Line’ show casing Brit talents such as Dev Sagoo and Mamta Anand.

In 2007, Jag Mudra directed ‘Provoked’ based on the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia and Southall Black Sisters. The film featured Ashwariya Rai and Naveen Andrews. The films tells how Kiranjt’s character ends up in prison after suffering over ten years of violence and abuse, finally kills her husband in self defence. The case mounted by Southall Black Sisters changed case law in Britain and highlighted problems of differential sentencing.

In 2007, ‘Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal’ directed by Vivek Agnihotri is a Bollywood take on a football team ‘Southall United Football Club’ with Bollywood heart throb John Abraham and Arshad Warsi. Other cast members include Bipasha Basu, Boman Irani, Dalip Tahil and Naveen Andrews. The plot explores notions of duty and corruption when the football team are facing bankruptcy.

Bollywood continues to be mesmerised by Southall and has plans to produce a film on the Southall Uprising in 1979. The film is set to feature the Bollywood heartthrob Akshay Kumar and his leading lady, Katrina Kaif playing his love interest. The directed by Nikhil Advani has stated that he was moved by the story of Southall in his recent visits to the town.

Written By Shakila Maan

The Cinema of Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha was born in Kenya and came to Britain with her parents in 1961. She grew up in Southall, London. After working as a broadcast journalist, her first directorial venture was I’m British But…, a documentary made for Channel 4 and the BFI in 1989. The film uses the phenomenon of bhangra music to explore issues of identity and belonging among young British-born Asians.

In 1990 Chadha made her first dramatic short film, Nice Arrangement, concerning a British-Asian family on the morning of their daughter’s wedding. This was followed by another documentary, Acting Our Age (1991), in which elderly Asians living in Southall recount their experiences of living in Britain. These various concerns came together in Chadha’s first feature film, the comedy-drama Bhaji on the Beach (1993). The film centres on the experiences of a group of Asian women from three generations on a day trip to Blackpool. As Chadha has said, in the film “You have tradition on the one side and modernity on the other, Indianness on the one side, Englishness on the other, cultural specificity and universality – but in fact there is a scale between each of these polarities and the film moves freely between them.”

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) is the highest grossing British-financed, British- distributed film, ever in the UK box-office. The award-winning film was a critical and commercial success internationally, topping the box-office charts across the globe. This story of a young Asian woman trying to pursue her ambitions as a footballer while accommodating the demands of family and tradition may seem familiar territory. However, the fact that the film is set in Southall, where Chadha grew up, enables her to present a subtly nuanced picture of a very specific community. The film makes the point that British Asian experiences are as diverse as those of any cultural or ethnic group, thereby emphasising the universality of those experiences, a point that is all the more powerful for being quietly made.

It’s A Wonderful Afterlife (2010) is a new heart-warming comedy about a hysterical Indian mother whose match-making efforts turn deadly when she tries to marry off her frumpy daughter. The film is set in Ealing and Southall branches off from the same world she created in Bend It Like Beckham yet into a completely different genre. Speaking about the comedy Chadha says “I started making movies because I wanted to see more people that looked like me or my community on our screens and It’s A Wonderful Afterlife represents me taking those images and putting them into a genre we, as Asians could never imagine we could see ourselves in. When I was growing up, we never saw Asians on TV never mind the Western movies, my work have been about making us mainstream and now I have helped achieve that, I want to have fun with it.”

Written By Pardeep Sahota

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