All in Good Time is based on the 1963 play of the same name by Bill Naughton, and was originally adapted as Rafta Rafta by writer Ayub Khan-Din. Watching it this weekend, I kept wondering whether it might have been best left alone, as what was a decent script that worked well on the stage somehow didn’t quite manage to win me over on the screen. Is this a social drama about sexual tension, family woes, comedy, black humor, or all of these mixed together?
Atul Dutt (the handsome Reece Ritchie) marries Veena Patel (the lovable girl next door type Amara Karan), and they move in with Atul’s parents Eeshwar (Harish Patel) and Lopa Dutt (Meera Syal), and younger brother Jay (Neet Mohan). They are an everyday working class British Asian family based in the north of England. The film can be placed among a tradition of charming and funny British – and particularly English – social melodramas, kitchen sink dramas, and everyday working class experiences. With the focus of the family being Indian, we get a genuine attempt at a British Asian ensemble through the audio and visual arrangements in the film. However, the script and editing appeared better executed, perhaps, in the second half than the first. This left for an uncomfortable viewing experience as the first part of the film seemed somehow to lack conviction.
Our lovely young couple, quite innocent and both virgins, try to consummate their marriage amidst a family that’s always in their way (often literally), and with friends and neighbors always prying and watching their every move. There’s emotional tension, too, between father Harish and son Atul, and Lopa hides a dark and intimate secret that’s revealed later in the film, as things start to go from bad to worse for our newlyweds (doesn’t every family try and hide at least one secret?)
There are some good lines and scenes, but unfortunately they only really stand out because the rest of the film seems at odds with what it is meant to be achieving. The domineering and oaf-like father always tries to do the right thing, only his timing leaves a lot to be desired. As the young couple try to consummate their marriage, on the other side of the thin bedroom wall of the family’s terraced house the father is also having sex – quite noisily – with the mother; this creates a kind of sex-off to which the son has to frustratingly give in against. The compassionate mother has a touching scene or two with her son; she also selflessly devotes herself to her family, not least by putting up with her snoring and overweight husband, who takes up more than two-thirds of their bed. Two British Asian couples are unable to mention the word “sex” and painfully refer to it as “it” a few times, creating further amusing misunderstandings. Blackpool beach and Tower are lovingly filmed in a retro 60s and 70s style feel, while the mother and father speculate about male bonding and homo-sociality.
But these well handled moments aside, there are also quite a few problems that weren’t smoothed over, leaving me to wonder whether this was intentional, or whether the film crew were running out of money. Although the film is set in the contemporary present of the post-2000s, its themes, issues and, at times, its mise-en-scènesuggest that we are still in a culture clash Britain of the 1970s and 1980s. At one point, a Bollywood film plays in a cinema to which Akshay Kumar and Raveena Tandon are seen singing and dancing in a provocative wet sari sequence in the rain. The only problem is that the song and music that accompanies it is incorrectly selected from the Untruly Yours album of the British Bhangra artist Bally Jagpal.
What almost made the film for me (almost, but not quite) was the finale, when Atul goes after his bride to win her back and they make up and rush back home, as amorous teenagers in love, to the melodious and powerful track of Sanu Ek Pal Chain Na Aave/One Moment is Restless Without You by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This is captured beautifully by both the camerawork and editing. If only the rest of the film was as well executed.
Genuine and believable performances – ones that are funny, socially aware and sad all at the same time – are present here and there throughout this film. However, while adapting the original play to a British Asian experience worked well for the stage, the film still sadly leaves much to be desired.
Rajinder Dudrah is Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K., and author of ‘Bollywood Travels: Culture, Diaspora and Border Crossings in Popular Hindi Cinema’.