- Published on Thursday, 01 December 2011 05:36
With Norway still recovering from the devastating terrorist attack by Christian fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik last July, a new Norwegian television series called Taxi claims to challenge the established prejudices surrounding how ethnic minorities and “native” Norwegians interact.
Unfortunately, anyone who expected that to actually be the premise of the show would have found it disappointing at best and, at worst, detrimental to any further dialogue and understanding.
Being in the UK, I watched the series online via the Norwegian Broadcasting Services online player. Taxi starts as a fast-pace, action-filled thriller about a young Norwegian-Pakistani lawyer Javar Jafri, (played by Adil Khan) in an existential crisis who finds real trouble when he discovers a case of tax fraud with roots deeper in the system than expected. The four-episode miniseries is a crisp and beautifully shot piece of cinematography, with highly capable actors. The eerie, industrial, yet moving soundtrack immediately makes you abandon everything else to devote your attention to this highly anticipated and quite controversial new creation by half Norwegian, half Pakistani writer-director Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen.
The story follows Jafri as he pursues a lead about several taxi owners committing tax fraud (the movie is loosely inspired by the major scandal in Norway in 2004, where over 500 taxi owners and 2000 taxi drivers were suspected of tax fraud). As Jafri digs deeper, with the aid of his White Norwegian, journalist girlfriend, he finds himself chased by a bunch of angry unshaved Pakistani taxi drivers with batons and an affinity for cars that suggest a certain lack of sexual potency. When his brother in-law dies, his girlfriend is attacked by aforementioned Ray-Banned men, and when he finally is framed for the brutal murder of his sister, he must really start running for his life.
The characters run into several “cultural crises” from the start: Javar’s family know nothing about his girlfriend; his girlfriend’s parents are racist and disapproving of this “savage foreigner;” his sister, though married, is actually more interested in her lesbian girlfriend (the most interesting thing about this lightweight series is that her husband is aware of this and indeed married her so she could live in peace with her partner without raising suspicion).
Though the series was hailed by actor Khan as the first instance in Norwegian broadcasting history where “normal” Norwegian-Pakistanis have been portrayed, it really failed to deliver. The first episode was promising, with exciting action-drama, a seemingly interesting story line, and an unafraid and authentic use of dialogue in Punjabi, something that is all but unheard of in Norwegian television. Personally, this was the only thing I really enjoyed about watching this series, and I don’t even understand Punjabi.
By the second episode it became clear that this show was less about how the “system” is rotten to the core, less about building cultural bridges with immigrants, and more about everything that is wrong and “abhorrent” about Pakistani culture, and the dangerous consequences of these violent foreigners in the peaceful country of Norway. Aslak Nore, journalist, ex-military (in Bosnia), and controversial author writes that Taxi gives an outdated image of Pakistanis in Norway.
When Javar’s sister is murdered, a member of the forensic team at the crime scene exclaims “Not easy being tolerant when they behave like this!” It’s not by chance that a character announces such a thing. No writer or director would randomly insert such a powerful, loaded declaration; they must have wanted a reaction. Two outcomes can be anticipated from this statement. Either viewers will see how generalising and, ultimately, racist some people can be by judging a whole group based on the actions of a few, without even knowing the reasons why. Or the statement will resonate with viewers, who, shaking their heads in dismay, nod to themselves and agree that, yes, “these people” are truly savages.
The writer/director claims the series wants to highlight the problems in the Pakistani community in Oslo (he says Norway, but the capital city and its people can be quite different from the rest of the country). However, the director’s visual choices betray a different perspective. For example, in that same scene, the forensic scientist’s statement has just been preceded by one of the most brutal images I have ever seen on TV. Anyone seeing it would feel physically sick. It suggests a desired emotional result from the director. Instinctively, one will, at least for a few seconds, completely agree (how can we indeed trust “them” after this?!), because of the manner in which Javar’s sister was killed, was wrong, absolutely wrong. The fact that she was gay will also sting in the compassionate, equal-rights hearts of Norwegians, being among the most liberal in the world regarding homosexuality, with equal rights to marry and adopt. This particular scene seems to eliminate any further dialogue and understanding, taking the concept of culture clash to the utmost extreme.
While honour killings are of course abhorrent, and a tragedy that society must rid itself of, it is not exclusively a Pakistani, or Muslim, action. Everything about this miniseries is so focused on the Pakistani community and on this specific group’s dynamic in Oslo that there can be no doubt that Rolfsen wanted to send this signal specifically to them. Stop this, now. In fact, he openly states this in an interview. Really? This is what we need? As a Norwegian, as a friend of a 22 July victim, I am offended.
Norwegians really care about honour killings. They care about them so much that honour killings can often be the foundation of any discussion regarding ethnic minorities. “But what about honour killings?” There seems to be nothing more to immigrants than honour killings and hijab.
If this series was truly attempting to challenge attitudes towards immigrants and their descendants, it failed completely. The only sympathetic characters in the Pakistani community are the ones who distanced themselves from it, namely the main character Javar, his sister, and her dead “husband,” who epitomises the once-upon-a-time-Viking Norwegian: he is healthy, cycles, exercises, enjoys his meal with wine, is career-focused, and has an affinity for refined urbanisation. Javar’s sister is independent, gay – need I say more?
While none of this is inherently negative, these traits lose all their positive attributes by becoming the very symbols of difference, of the “change of allegiance,” from Pakistani to Norwegian, however fictional this dichotomy and the divide is.By Staff Writer