The Curry House Kid, Channel 4

Dancer and choreographer Akram Khan is no stranger to the Edinburgh International Festival, having graced its stages regularly over the last decade or so and often with work celebrating his Bangladeshi heritage. But the extent to which he is a stranger to himself, and even to aspects of that same heritage, was the subject of this absorbing documentary.

We followed Khan as he returned to Brick Lane in East London, heart of the Bangladeshi community and the place where his immigrant father had found work in a curry restaurant. It was Khan senior’s hope that his son would follow him into the trade, but the young Akram had discovered Michael Jackson and Indian traditional dance and had other ideas.

Besides – and this is what took us to the heart of the matter – he had twice had beer glasses smashed over his head by drunk customers while helping out in the restaurant, and had witnessed the endless racist abuse levelled at his father and his fellow Bangladeshi waiters. It left a bitter taste and Khan became visibly angered when he talked about it. Stopping on 18th century Fournier Street, which intersects Brick Lane, he pondered the inscription on a building which had started life as a Huguenot chapel, become a synagogue and later become a mosque. The inscription read “Umbra sumus”, “We live in the shadows”, as true for the Protestants fleeing religious persecution in Catholic France as it was those fleeing Russian pogroms or escaping brutality, famine and civil war in Bangladesh in the early 1970s.

Intercut with footage of skinheads and National Front graffiti, Khan interviewed those who better remembered the bad days, delved into the immigrant experience and met other “curry house kids” like him. One was reinventing Bangladeshi cuisine for the hipster generation with a smart café serving street food, another was turning to rap to express himself. Out of their stories and his own, we watched as Khan began to fashion a piece of choreography. In an East End boxing club frequented by Bangladeshis he mimicked the drunken lurching and swiping fists of the late night racists, acted out the stabbing he had heard about from an old chef – the man still had the puncture mark – and worked through the father-son conflicts which had driven him to dance in the first place. Then it all came together in a short performance in an abandoned warehouse off Brick Lane. Like the documentary itself, it was a deeply person and moving exploration of the immigrant experience.