Travels with My Beard
Although this BBC documentary was made in 2005, it still has relevance, as the global war on terrorism escalates. Rajesh Thind, a Sikh, whose appearance when clean-shaven had never been a problem, finds that by simply growing a beard, he becomes highly suspicious, or “dodgy-looking,” to the British public and the police. A brown-skinned man such as Thind, who also wears a beard and carries a backpack, fits the profile of the London tube bomber.
Thind travels about London and the surrounding area doing interviews that reveal how uncomfortable many people — including other persons of color — are with his appearance, as he is continually mistaken for a Muslim and possible terrorist. The personable Thind and his videographer are remarkably able to become part of a scene, capturing candid comments and reactions from subjects in difficult situations such as confronting an anti-immigration advocate at famously wacky Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. His quirky style of “research” includes asking other bearded men, such as Russian Orthodox priests, about their beards, and what it is about his own beard that keeps getting him in trouble. “Is it the length?” he asks. Answer: Longer is better. A segment in which Thind hauls a mannequin around and dresses it in various masks and outfits to play “Spot the Terrorist” with passers-by has some especially amusing moments.
The lighthearted video wanders into weighty territory throughout, however, including a tense interview with an actual terrorist in the Middle East. Thind is questioned and searched by British police on numerous occasions, and eventually fears for his own safety in light of the government’s “shoot to kill” anti-terrorist policy. Back at Speaker’s Corner, a smiling — and bearded — Muslim man advises, “It’s not the beard, it’s the heart” that determines who you are. Thind is nevertheless delighted to ultimately shave it off.
Presenter: Rajesh Thind
Produced and directed by Rajesh Thind, Danny Collins and Sean Smith