South Asian illegals in mid ’60s Britain find the greater enemy lies within “Brothers in Trouble,” a well-turned ensembler that lifts the veil on an uncharted area of Blighty’s modern history. Pic’s fine performances and character-driven drama equip this 35mm BBC Film production for offshore festival dates, though theatrical sales look more problematic given the local subject matter and claustrophobic setting.
Story follows Amir (Pavan Malhotra) as he arrives in a dreary northern town in a vegetable crate, equipped only with a fistful of dollars and a dogged desire to succeed. Sharing a dark, gloomy house with 17 other Asian illegals, he soon finds he has merely transplanted himself to a microcosm of the society he left behind.
Work is in a factory full of other Asians, and entertainment is a weekly trip to a movie theater showing Indian pics in the daytime. Sexual satisfaction is via a white hooker who services the whole house on occasional visits.
The minicommunity is ruled by Hussein Shah (vet Om Puri), an oldstyle paterfamilias. Amir soon falls in with Sakib (Pravesh Kumar), a bright-faced young scholar who lives in the attic and intros him to the basics of his new life.
Divisions start to appear in the all-male household when Shah brings home a friendly young Irish blonde, Mary (Angeline Ball), also an illegal.
When she turns out to be pregnant, Shah agrees to a paper marriage with his nephew Irshad (Ahsen Bhatti), but, when the baby is born, growing tensions between the dictatorial Shah, disrespectful Irshad and freewheeling Mary boil over into violence.
Though set at a time of rising illegal immigrancy from South Asia, pic is not about race relations. Almost the entire movie takes place within the confines of the house, with Brits only rarely glimpsed, casting disapproving looks in doorways of shops.
The only major non-Asian character, Mary, is as much a social marginal as the community she’s embraced.
Indian-born director Udayan Prasad (a BBC Screen Two regular) and scripter-producer Robert Buckler focus squarely on the emotional and social problems within the diverse group. Despite the movie’s gray, downbeat look, the overall tone is surprisingly light, with plenty of dry humor, a selfmocking tone to many of the characterizations and an optimistic finale.
Puri holds the screen in a tailormade role, but he’s given a run for his money by both the sparky Ball (one of the femme trio in “The Commitments”) and Kumar as the sunny, but finally weak, Sakib. As Amir, Malhotra is more a neutral observer than shaper of events.
Tech credits on the pic, shot around Leeds and in a London studio, are fine, with special praise for Alan Almond’s interior lensing, which makes notable play with single light sources to convey the umbrous world of the crowded house.