Sixth Happiness 1997
90 mins United Kingdom Director. Waris Hussein
Bombay, 1962: Sera Kotwal (Souad Faress) gives birth to Brit (Firdaus Kanga), a boy whose bones are so brittle that he can just hiccup and break a rib. Based on Kanga's acclaimed autobiographical novel, Trying to Grow, Sixth Happiness is the funny, acerbic and moving story of a young man's sexual awakening as family life crumbles around him.
Located within Mumbai's Parsee community, the film shows a thoroughly non-stereotypical Indian family. With powerhouse performances from Kanga and Faress, and featuring great support from Nina Wadia (Goodness Gracious Me), Indira Varma (Bride and Prejudice) and Meera Syal (The Kumars at No. 42), Sixth Happiness manages to turn just about every stereotype about India, disability and sexuality on its head.
Firdaus Kanga, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, describes the story as a 'reimagination' of his childhood and youth. Blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction even further was the decision to cast Kanga himself in the role of Brit even though he had no experience as an actor. Kanga's creation – both as writer and performer – resists drawing Brit as either martyr or victim. Brit is bright, spiky, opinionated and selfish with a razor-sharp tongue. He prefers the Kama Sutra to Shakespeare and does not allow gender to come in the way of his desire for sex.
Back in 1997 when Sixth Happiness was released theatrically, South Asian culture had yet to break into the Western mainstream. Just a few years later and audiences were flocking to see East is East, Bend it Like Beckham and Bombay Dreams; Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42 brought a new kind of comedy to millions of British homes.
Even after this cultural revolution, Sixth Happiness still appears extraordinarily radical, boasting a heady brew of bisexuality, disability, dysfunctional families and suicide, and refusing to dabble in political correctness.