on 8 December 2007
This film came out in the late 1990's, when everything India was suddenly fashionable. But this film is much more than that. It's about Brit - a charismatic young man in Bombay who has brittle bones. Brit is part of the small but fluent, distinctive and amusing community - the Parsees. The Parsees (Freddie Mercury being their most successful export) are descendants of the Persian empire who escaped Persia to resist the Islamic invasion. They settled more than a thousand years ago in western India, maintaining their uniquely distinct status.
Parsees had a close relationship with the British during the years of the Empire. Brit is named both after his brittle bones, and after Britain, by his mother, reflecting her extraordinary love for everything British. The depiction of Brit's parents as ardent Anglophiles ("The only war I remember is the war I fought, on Britain's side," declares Brit's mother) with fond memories of the Raj (his mother stores tubs of Marmite and Huntley and Palmer toffees in her 1970's Bombay wardrobe) presents a glimpse of a non-stereotypical seductively amusing Indian Parsee family.
This, along with the moving story of a Brit's sexual awakening as family life suddenly crumbles around him makes Sixth Happiness a fluent and erotic exploration of the modern and urban Bombay of today. Firdaus Kanga who wrote the screenplay and who plays Brit is writing mainly about his own life. Brit is bright, spiky, opinionated and selfish with a razor-sharp wit. In the film, the young teen switches allegiances from Shakespeare to the Kama Sutra, seduces his male flatmate, and then the flatmate's stunning girlfriend Amy. Brit refuses to let gender, disability or his increasingly watchful mother to come in the way of his desire for intimacy, hot passion, sex and love. The film is poignantly happy, celebrating the joy and embarrassment of being different and revelling in it. The fact that Firdaus Kanga largely bases it on his own life gives the film a punchy life-size reality that you couldn't get with a team of screen writers.
Sixth Happiness opens with a giddy tango sequence by Brit's Anglophile parents. It ends with the same music but with a delightful whirl of a dance by Kanga in his wheelchair that is poignant and irrepressibly fun.
With powerhouse performances from Kanga and Souad Faress (The Archers, Radio 4), Nina Wadia (Goodness Gracious Me), Indira Varma (Bride and Prejudice, Kama Sutra) and Meera Syal (The Kumars at No. 42), Sixth Happiness manages to turn just about every stereotype about India, and sexuality on its head. It's a film that is tenderly erotic yet extraordinarily sunny, pointing us to one view - that life is to be lived, and to the joy we find when we open ourselves up to be hurt and loved.
This is an enjoyable, warmhearted film about a boy born in India with a disability that leaves him very fragile and unable to grow. Firdaus Kanga, who wrote the book, also plays the lead, who is called Brit because his bones are so brittle. The condition seems to improve as he gets older in terms of his physical resilience, but in his early years even coughing was enough to break a rib. Brit responds to his condition with great courage and an unwavering lust for life.
Although based on Kanga's own life up to a point, he says in the interview that it is largely different from what he experienced except for the basic condition. In reality he spent most of his youth on two beds and rarely went out, but here a more colourful life is presented, even if shot through with tragedy (his father commits suicide, which I imagine is not based on reality). This presumably reflects the particular difficulty of this kind of situation in Indian society - although they are Parsi, so not strictly Indian at all, but Persian. The tone is quite comic for much of the time, and the more painful aspects are glided over somewhat, such as the above event. Nevertheless there is a lot to be gained from such an entertaining portrait, as it does make you aware of the challenges faced by someone with these disabilities, and also shows how it is possible to overcome them, as Kanga must also have done, judging from the tone of his interview. The family is full of colourful personalities and there is never a dull day in the household, with extended family and a lodger also playing an important role. There is an emphasis on erotic fulfilment (with this lodger, Cyrus) it is pleasing to see, which, he hints, mirrored real life, and a sequence where he dances in his wheelchair is a joyous moment of affirmation.
on 21 February 2013
Sixth Happiness  [DVD] Winning an Emma award for best picture '97, is a particularly beautiful film about Brit a boy with brittle bone disease born in India to a Farsi family. It shows his trials, tribulations and joys as he grows up.
I was privileged to play the flute on the soundtrack of this film.