review - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

review

Teenage ennui is hardly a novelty on television but the solution proposed in last night's Video Diaries (BBC2) could hardly be described as over-familiar: "I wanted something exciting to happen, so I asked my mum to arrange a marriage for me." The diarist was Omerjit Brar, a young Sikh girl, and her film traced what followed that large decision. That "Suitable Boy" was a pure genre piece - the coming-of-age drama, in which a single year provides the hinge between childhood and maturity - did nothing to undermine its fresh authenticity. After all, teenagers do imagine their lives as romantic fictions. That guileless sentence would provide the perfect opening line for such a narrative, but only, perhaps, if an older writer was in charge. Appropriately enough, Omerjit settled for the tone of a teen magazine for her brief passages of scene-setting: "It was the best year of my life, and the hardest. Big decisions had to be taken. Was I ready for it?"

The problem was simple: having started the wheels turning, Omerjit discovered a more fanciable candidate closer to home. A conspiracy of secret meetings and sudden infatuation followed, the cliches of puppy love, made strange for most Western viewers by the fact that the first awkward encounter included a discussion of marriage plans. Ranjit looked as bemused as the average white boy would be to find that a blind date had turned into an engagement, but he seemed broadly contented to flow with the current of Omerjit's determination. It all ended happily, or at least with a pukka arrangement in place.

These video diaries are rarely quite as innocently home-made as they make out. During Omerjit's performance in an Asian beauty contest, for instance, it was clear that the camera had to be held by someone else and I'd put money on the fact that a more tutored sense of composition was at work in those scenes - an artful intercutting between long-shots and details (knowing my luck it will turn out to have been shot by a seven- year-old niece). What's more, emotional turbulence never quite rises to the level where it threatens filming. When Omerjit broke the news that she had changed her mind, for example, the camera had been carefully placed to frame her parents' ensuing indignation. Life had to wait on technology before it could proceed.

For sceptics, this weakens the method's claim to reach parts that other documentaries cannot. But there's no doubting the special intimacy that is generated between diarist and camera. "I've come in here for a private chat because I can't even talk inside anymore," said Omerjit, huddling in the garage for a heart to heart with her electronic confidante. The butterfly distraction of young agonies is also nicely captured: "Urrgh, look, my nail varnish - I'll have to take it off," said Omerjit halfway through a confessional about her troubles. After she had flashed the offending nails for our inspection she returned to her trauma without drawing breath. Other lines, too, suggested an assurance that the camera is no longer an outsider: "Worse thing is he's from India," said Omerjit, revealing that a new parental candidate was on the scene. "Oahr! That's sick!" her friend replied with unself-conscious candour - a little revelation of prejudice that might otherwise have been concealed.

The women in Men Behaving Badly (BBC1) were recently reported as having made a fuss over the fact that they were being paid less than the lads. They were right to complain because Simon Nye's comedy absolutely depends on their presence to rescue itself from mere loutishness. In The Likely Lads, Thelma was just a nagging plot device, an obstacle for the boys to scramble over - in Men Behaving Badly, Dorothy and Deborah have a real dramatic parity. It is a comedy of mutual incomprehension, nicely summed up in last night's episode, when Gary glumly commented that "really getting to know each other" was a downside to living with a girlfriend, not one of its highlights.

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