Yesterday is a feel-good film starring Nimesh Patel as ‘Jack Malik’, a failing musician whose life is turned around after a freak accident where no-one except him remembers The Beatles. In an expected play-by-play of events, Jack profits from this worldwide amnesia, regrets it and feels guilty. The pop star renounces this lifestyle, where, in the film’s final scene, he admits none of the songs were his at a show at Wembley Stadium, and that he actually loves his best friend/original manager, Ellie Appleton (Lily James).
On paper, the premise of Yesterday’s narrative is predictable yet effective. You know where the film is going and feel alongside the characters, wait for the happy ending and go home. There is little to no lasting impact, nothing about the film truly lingers with you. But as a British-Indian viewer, there was an extra level to this narrative. I’m not saying that me being Indian and the main lead also being Indian made the film better, rather I felt validated as both British and desi.
Think about other Indian characters you may (or may not, most likely) have seen on screen. Raj from The Big Bang Theory, Apu from The Simpsons. What do they have in common? Their defining feature is the fact they are Indian, which is used as an easy laugh on both shows.
Jack, on the other hand, exists as a character, rather than just an Indian; he’s a protagonist, a person. His race is not used once as a point of contention or comedy. Moreover, he serves as a representation of The Beatles and their music, one of the biggest English pop bands in the world! However predictable and somewhat dull that representation was, it was so refreshing to see a desi character taken out of the stereotypes like nerds and shop-keepers, and brought into the limelight as a star.
It’s been said time and time again – putting ethnic minorities on big-screens is important. It proves to everyone that race should not be a deciding factor in shaping who you are, that just because you are Indian does not mean you have to follow the cookie-cutter path of doctor, lawyer, engineer or shop-keeper, that these are not the only stories that can shape your path. It proves that what contextualises a character as a person in their narrative-world should not be race, but personality, nuance, interests and ideas.
It proves that I am not just Indian. I am a performer, a poet, a person, like Jack.