This Britain - A Private Enterprise
09 September 2011, 09:38
Shot on a tiny budget for the British Film Institute Production Board, A Private Enterprise was the first British film to portray the lives and concerns of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, as seen through the eyes of engineer Shiv Verma (the likeable Salmaan Peer). His dream of starting up his own workshop making plastic Indian trinkets drives the narrative, and brings him into conflict with family, friends, colleagues and the local business community.
Shiv’s problem is that his aspirations don’t fit the various templates that have been laid out for him. He cheerfully describes himself as the family black sheep for favouring business over a respectable professional career, but he ends up just as isolated from his colleagues, his uncle Ramji, his best friend Ashok and potential girlfriends Penny and Chandra. Although he joins fellow strikers on the picket line and can identify with their cause at a human level, he is uncomfortably aware that he plans to join the very class that they’re protesting against, while his own entrepreneurial activities are greeted with polite amusement from potential customers.
Outside work, he fares no better: his attempts at socialising at his dance class are met with indifference, while he is equally at sea in the Indian spiritual centre that Penny introduces him to (the only thing he has in common with the guru she introduces him to being their nationality). Both Penny and Chandra are hopelessly shallow in their respective spiritualism and materialism, and while the issue of racism is generally played down, its unmistakable presence in the final scene opens up fresh challenges.
If this makes A Private Enterprise sound like a bleak, pessimistic film (an impression heightened by its setting in decaying industrial Birmingham), this isn’t entirely fair. Although director Peter Smith and co-writer Dilip Hiro (himself an immigrant from the Indian subcontinent, who would become a distinguished writer and political commentator) wanted to paint an honest portrait of the problems faced by the immigrant community, they also work in a great deal of warmth and humour.
In particular, the film stresses the supportiveness of Indian families – Shiv has no shortage of offers of employment or even marriage. But he wants to be an individual in a system that values conformity, a dilemma that places him squarely in line with his British-born New Wave predecessors of a decade earlier and makes his origins almost irrelevant.