Two Dosas

Two Dosas (2014) is co-written by Brown Baby, A Memoir Of Race, Family And Home author, Nikesh Shukla, and is co-written and directed by My Pure Land (2017) writer and director, Sarmad Masud. Himesh Patel’s Pavan, a British born South Asian, intends to charm Eleanor Wyld’s Chloe through an “authentic” South Asian dining experience. What Pavan has not anticipated is Chloe’s existing knowledge and history with India, being able to speak fluent Hindi and her ordering off menu. We learn this as Pavan recounts and narrates how the date went to two other work colleagues, in a school staff room, whose Statler and Waldorf-like presence accompanies the recounting of the date, told in flashbacks.

Digital illustration of Two Dosas, Himesh Patel’s Pavan.
Two Dosas, digital illustration by Hamish Mèk Chohan.

Observed by Omeleto, where you can also watch the short film, a frustratingly not credited individual writes of Two Dosas.

What works so well in the script is how it takes questions about ethnicity, authenticity and even post-colonialism and integrates them beautifully into the emotional fabric of the short.

Pavan assumes his “otherness” as a British-born South Asian man gives him an advantage with Chloe, but the storytelling delightfully unravels this assumption about Pavan, and about Chloe as well. The film plays her enthusiasm for Indian culture as both genuine, and perhaps gently questioning the idea of the “cultural tourist.” But despite the potential weightiness of topics like race and colonialism, there’s no heavy-handedness in the wonderfully jazz-like dialogue or the effervescent comic timing of the film and actors.

One’s otherness can allow us to differentiate ourselves from a perceived norm or allow ourselves to identify individuals or groups as the other, different to the self. Two Dosas swiftly dismantles the notion of otherness through the commonality of failure, especially in the failure of Pavan’s romantic pursuit. As Pavan describes how the date played out to his two white work colleagues his cultural identity, though core to the film’s narrative, is second to his experience as an idealistic, yearning to be “exotic”, male.

What Two Dosas also felt like was a prequal to the Richard Curtis written and Danny Boyle directed Yesterday (2019). Beyond Himesh Patel as the slightly aloof protagonist in both films, you can also find parallels between Wyld’s Chloe, in Two Dosas, and Lily James’s school teacher and artist manager, Ellie Appleton, in Yesterday. For my money, however, I think Two Dosas completely has the sharper edge.

Patel plays each character with charm, bravado and fallibility, in both films but in Two Dosas the Pavan character’s experience of being British South Asian is also engrained into his identity. I guess that is the difference between Masud and Shukla writing a film with a British South Asian protagonist and Boyle casting the best Jack who could convincingly sing songs with conviction.

The biggest single factor in casting him was we had been seeing a lot of people who sang songs as part of the audition. I began to worry that the songs were a bit karaoke. They sounded like impersonations, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it didn’t feel right to the film. Himesh Patel walked in and played “Yesterday” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and it was the purest moment. You get those occasionally in casting where you just go, “Oh my god, that’s him.” They felt like his songs, they didn’t feel like Paul McCartney’s songs. My job really was to protect that freshness that he has and that clarity.

Excerpt from Variety, Danny Boyle On ‘Yesterday,’ Leaving ‘Bond 25’ And Why The Beatles Still Rock, by Rebecca Rubin

Whilst Yesterday is a feel good film, which is well cast, it completely ignores the lived experiences of British South Asian bodies, both in Jack and his parents, played by Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal as Jed and Sheila. Seriously, if a British South Asian person had written the complete works of The Beatles catalogue, how far are they really going to get convincing a record label to put out Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da or I Am The Walrus?

Two Dosas also features an incident where Pavan is introduced to paan for the first time. Paan is the preparation of the betal leaf that is mixed with other flavours and occasionally tobacco, this is chewed and then swallowed or spat out depending on what’s been added. Given that I have my own story featuring a similar unfortunate ending when trying paan for the first time, I’m starting to suspect there may be a recurring theme for British South Asians vs. paan.

Two Dosas is a wonderful and funny short, sharply told and acutely observed. Whilst it is currently available to watch for free on the BFI Player, it is also being screened later this month as part of the T A P E Presents: But Where Are You Really From? series, in the In Conversation With Nikesh Shukla event.