This is the first draft, in typescript, of My Beautiful Laundrette, a 1985 film written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears.
Originally devised for television, Kureishi’s first screenplay was shot on a low budget in only six weeks. Set in Thatcher-era south London, the film is a ground-breaking exploration of race, class, politics and sexuality. It centres on Omar, a young British-Pakistani boy who is given the opportunity to renovate his uncle’s laundrette, and Johnny, a boyhood friend with fascist sympathies who becomes Omar’s lover. The romantic relationship between these young men develops alongside the film’s other concerns – such as the British Asian struggle to maintain an ethnic identity while assimilating into Western society, represented by Papa Hussain, an alcoholic, disillusioned socialist, and Uncle Nasser, a rich entrepreneur.
The film stars Saeed Jaffrey (Nasser), Roshan Seth (Papa Hussain), Daniel Day Lewis (Johnny) and Gordon Warnecke (Omar). My Beautiful Laundrette became a huge commercial and critical success after it was applauded by film critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival, leading to international distribution for cinema in 1986 and an Oscar nomination for Kureishi.
What does the first draft of My Beautiful Laundrette reveal?
Dated 20 June 1984, the first draft of My Beautiful Laundrette is fundamentally different to the final screenplay. As Kureishi explains in his published introduction to the screenplay, the drafting process was rapid and fairly fierce, driven by both a small budget and the need for Kureishi to adapt his style from theatre to film.
We can see, for example, the early ambitious vision to include dramatic flashback scenes which were to show Johnny and Omar’s schooldays, fascist marches, and the relationship between Omar’s parents (who, in a surreal moment, appear on a television screen in Salim’s flat).
Kureishi has not yet written in the notable comic episodes, such as the ‘Telephone Man’ gag in the laundrette, Tania flashing her breasts at Omar and the group of businessmen lounging in Nasser’s bedroom, or the laughing, fake-bearded heroin smuggler at the airport hotel.
Perhaps most striking is the draft’s ending, which is bleak and ultimately pessimistic about the future for a society which values self-interest above all else. Papa Hussain dies, and Omar and Johnny are not reunited. Johnny has left his rented room, and is nowhere to be found. The final scene closes with the suggestion that Omar is about to be attacked by Genghis, who menacingly follows him across the street.
As well as cutting down the length, the successive drafts show Kureishi losing the sometimes didactic tone by weaving in comedy in order to broach difficult subjects such as racism and unemployment.