Today: April 19, 2024
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West Is West

By Shelley Marsden

Younger cinema-goers won’t remember 1999’s East Is East, but for those who do, the sequel is something of a disappointment.

The former was full of laughs (to this day, every time someone makes a
cup of tea in our house, somebody will enevitably shout back, “I’ll
have half a cup…” like the film’s protagonist), but through those laughs
it managed to highlight some heavyweight issues about ethnic identity
and the differing experience of immigrants throughout the generations. West Is West catches
up with the same British Muslim family, exploring the themes East Is
East began, changing the context and developing the discussion on
immigration and what it means.

East Is East was set in Salford at the beginning of the 70s; its
sequel begins in the same town in 1976 and, for the most part, the cast
members are the same. Om Puri is back as the perpetually angry,
confused patriarch George Khan, Linda Bassett as his long-suffering
English (second) wife Ella and Emil Marwa and Jimi Mistry
as two of his sons (Mistry appears in one short scene as hippy Tariq,
running a headshop and happy to plug his Asian roots in order to pull
gullible blondes). George’s youngest son, Sajid, is the new kid on the
block and the lynchpin of the whole film. Played by Aqib Khan this
gangly, mouthy kid has become the focal point of all his father’s
frustrations. Will he go off the rails, do nothing with his life?

And so, to the main plot; George takes his begrudging teen with him
to the old country, to show him how they live in Pakistan, give him a
sense of where he ‘comes from’ and set him on the straight and narrow.
From the moment the pair step outside the airport and into the crowds,
the dust, and the noise, a series of moments are slightly heavy-handedly
offered up to the viewer which all lead to George’s own identity
crisis.

Upon arrival in his old village, ‘Jahangir’, as his old family in
Pakistan calls him, must deal with his meek and embittered first wife
and her guarded family, while Sajid is whisked off by a wrinkly hand
that we discover belongs to the local sage. A burgeoning friendship with
a local lad helps him enjoy an experience he was stubbornly refusing to
succumb to. Yes, touching but a little obvious. Khan’s realisation of
his shortcomings soon becomes clear. Not only has he underestimated the
lives he decimated leaving Pakistan behind for a new life (and a new
wife) in the North of England, but he discovered that his plans of
marrying off his son Maneer are not welcomed, due to those very life
choices.

The twist? Unbeknown to Khan, wife Ella turns up in the Punjab with
her bubbly mate in tow, bringing a touch of 70s Salford style with them.
It’s bury your head in the sand time, as the tension swiftly builds
between his English and his Pakistani families.

Don’t get us wrong, West Is West is an enjoyable film – with some laugh out loud moments,
and the beautiful setting is certainly a step up from scenes set inside
a chippy and looking down on a row of terraced houses. A couple of
scenes are genuinely moving. But if you’re hoping to come out
enlightened on the psyche of modern-day British Muslims, or the complex
situation in Pakistan, then forget it. What you get is a deeply
benign, almost happy-go-lucky vision of British Muslims – and perhaps
given the current political climate today – that’s not hard to
understand.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

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