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Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Release date in India:
June 10, 2011
Andy DeEmmony
Om Puri, Aqib Khan, Linda Bassett, Ila Arun, Emil Marwa, Raj Bhansali, Vijay Raaz, Sheeba Chaddha, Guest appearance by Jimi Mistry

West Is West is the sequel to the British film East Is East that introduced Jehangir a.k.a. George Khan to us. Twelve years have elapsed since the release of the first film. But in the story, only five years have passed since George alienated his children by imposing his Pakistani values on them although they’ve lived all their lives in the UK. East Is East was set in 1971 in the small town of Salford, England. In West Is West, we’re still in Salford but the year is now 1976. George and his English wife Ella are still running their fish-and-chips shop, but six of their children have moved out and they’re left with the youngest, Sajid. The teenager rebels against his British Pakistani father’s strictness, while also coping with racial slurs in school and a well-meaning but patronising teacher. When the boy is caught shoplifting one day, George decides to give him a dose of rural Pakistani life and carts him back to the home country, leaving Ella behind. How Sajid gradually comes to terms with his roots, how his father copes with his own return to a home he’s not visited in three decades, how this affects his Pakistani first wife and daughters, and how the emotional turmoil impacts Ella is what West Is West is about.

Be warned, this film is more sedate, much quieter than its precursor, and not as unrelentingly funny. It moves at a deliberately languid pace. So if you’re in a mood for Salman Khan and Ready, then West Is West is not the film for you. But if you are keen on a sublime saga of immigrant identity and confusion, told with a sense of humour through endearingly real people with shades of gray, then this film is just up your street.

The performances are excellent. Om Puri and Linda Bassett as Jehangir and Ella are top notch, just as they were in the first film. After years of doing nonsensical roles unworthy of him in Bollywood, Puri sinks his canines into West Is West with relish. As you watch him here, it’s hard not to feel saddened by the tragedy of a great actor whose home industry has few decent films to offer him. Stepping into the role of Sajid is loveable debutant Aqib Khan who fits the part to a T. The earthy new friend he makes in Pakistan is played in a delightfully cheeky fashion by Raj Bhansali who you may have seen earlier in the Bollywood kids’ film Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii. And even if these two youngsters don’t floor you, unless your heart is both a rock and a hard place you’re bound to lose that vital organ to Ila Arun playing the first Mrs Khan, Basheera. In her lined face, her tired eyes, her anger that bursts out just once against the husband who abandoned her in the prime of her life, you can read the story of numerous real-life Asian women who have suffered the same fate at the hands of duplicitous immigrant spouses.

One jarring note is provided by the wise Pirsaab who dispenses lessons on life to Sajid. He has delightfully mischievous eyes and dialogues to match, but his accent is too foreign to those parts. Even if he’s a wanderer who has chanced upon this little Pakistani hamlet on a journey from the West, he appears to be well-settled in the area which suggests that he’s been around long enough to have pared down the seemingly European inflections in his speech. This is a bit of a downer in a film that otherwise blends the various languages and accents of its characters so smoothly.

British Pakistani writer Ayub Khan-Din – who also wrote East Is East – is concise and to the point with his words. “I thought we had become nothing but an address to you,” Basheera tells Jehangir one day. The film is helmed by Andy DeEmmony, not Damien O’Donnell who directed Part 1. Like the writing, DeEmmony’s direction too is quite appropriately shorn of frills, as is the cinematography. The music by Bollywood trio Shankar Ehsaan Loy and Sufi Pakistani artiste Saeen Zahoor feels like it has sprung right from the soil on which Jehangir Khan was born. In fact, music becomes the most telling and amusing metaphor for the Khan family’s varied cultural influences when Sajid’s elder brother Maneer (Emil Marwa) – a European music fan – falls for a Nana Mouskouri-lookalike in the bylanes of his father’s ancestral village. For the record, the portions of the film set in Pakistan were in fact shot in India.

The most moving scene in the film is when Jehangir’s two wives come face to face and convey their hurt to each other despite the language barrier. It left me with moist eyes. But does the film go soft on Jehangir’s transgressions in the interests of political correctness?

Perhaps for this reason, the film is not as hard-hitting as I was hoping that the sequel of East Is East would be. Or perhaps the flaw is in me, because I wanted the film to pass judgement on this man who so ruthlessly deserted a wife and two children, and assuages his conscience by providing financial support to them. Well, real life often does let off men like Jehangir lightly. If you’re willing to accept that, then you might see West Is West for what it is: a bitter-sweet, funny-sad story of a guilt-ridden, emotionally conflicted old man and his culturally conflicted son. It touched me, and I suspect it will touch you too.

Rating (out of five): ***

Release date in the UK:

February 25, 2011
Release date in the US:
March 25, 2011
MPAA Rating (US):
CBFC Rating (India):
A without cuts. Subtitles have been blurred where references have been made to the town of Ramsbottom in England. The Censor Board apparently felt that the word could be misunderstood or could hurt religious sentiments in our country. For the record, the “Ram” in “Ramsbottom” is not a reference to Lord Ram. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on the place
Running time in the US:
103 minutes
Running time in India:
103 minutes
English & Punjabi with subtitles

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