It seems harsh to fault Industry, the mostly good HBO series about London banking, for its little infelicities. But hedgies tend to steer away from greasy-spoon cafes as their favoured meeting spots. No man would risk mocking another’s suit while sporting a belt instead of side-adjusters. And unless things have improved in my absence, not everyone in the city, or the City, is sky-high on ketamine.
Then we have the problem with finance dramas since Wall Street: how to craft narrative twists that do not involve the implausibly lurid (here, the death of a graduate trainee) or the outright criminal? The “industry” is meant to be compelling enough without recourse to the exotic.
If I stick with the show, it is for the odd glimpse of Rishi, a British Asian who executes trades for the rookie sales staff. He is an intermittent presence and yet I can fill in the blanks. He will have grown up in the pebbledash terraces of Zone 4, between film-set London and true suburbia. (The actor is indeed from Kenton.) His parents were academically demanding (he read economics at, say, York) but otherwise tolerant. His romantic partner is white. He is weirdly at ease amid lad culture. His vote is up for grabs, if Labour sorts itself out.
Above all, he has spent approximately two seconds of his life wondering “who he is”. I have known lots of Rishis. I have seldom seen them dramatised. The novelty is welcome.
The portrayal of the South Asian diaspora is going to test writers and screenwriters in the coming years. They are an increasingly prominent force in US life: by one measure, Indian-Americans are now the highest-earning ethnic group. Kamala Harris’s mother was a Tamil Brahmin. As for the UK, we are into the third and fourth generations now. The progeny of immigrants can be found atop companies and (to cite another Rishi) G8-sized economies. Their spread into the arts is almost as visible.
Plainly, Apu from The Simpsons will no longer cut it. But then the cringing Asian is not the stereotype that has recurred in my lifetime. It is more often the neurotic misfit, caught between the ancestral culture and western temptation. This character crops up in soap operas, films (Blinded by the Light) and literature as recent as the Booker-longlisted In Our Mad and Furious City. And so one version of the immigrant experience is captured faithfully enough, often enough.
It is just that another one screams to be told. Rishi is a rare stab at it. Albeit a grotesque, Chabuddy G of BBC Three comedy People Just Do Nothing is another. In their profane confidence (“Don’t act the c**t”, is quite the pep talk for a sales team), in their love of a pound note, these characters are hardly victims. They do not set aside time for the contemplation of their identity. They are not obviously burdened by guilt or parental diktat. If they vary their speech between family and friends, that fact is not interesting enough to show. Few of us, the producers realise, are all of a piece, all of the time. And no one I know code-switches like high-earners from white working-class homes. Hear that glottis open and close to order.
The un-conflicted Asian was long overdue on screen. There was a glint of it in the adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia a generation ago. I remember the shiver of recognition well. But even the young hedonist in that story seemed trapped between worlds at times. In a sense, then, Rishi is a more radical character than any in Industry, including the grandiosely striving protagonist. As a corrective to tropes about the subcontinental diaspora, the principal flaw is that it was so long in coming.
And that it is still so minor. At this juncture, I should urge the producers to flesh out this peripheral figure in the second series. There is a well-watched YouTube video called “Industry but it’s just Rishi” that suggests a latent demand out there. But I have seen how these things tend to go. The temptation will be to mire him in existential angst, the puppet of his elders, as east and west vie for possession of his soul.
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