Thursday, July 14, 2011

West is West (movie review)

The sequel to East is East -- released 11 years after it!

West is West (Britain, 2010)
- Andy De Emmony, dir.
- Starring Aqib Khan, Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Emil Marwa, Ila Arun, Nadim Sawalha, Raj Bansali, etc.

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," goes the famous line from Rudyard Kipling's The Ballad of East and West. Far less well known, however, is the same poem's third and fourth lines which go as follows: "But there is neither East nor West, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!"

In both East is East, an entertaining 1999 dramedy revolving around a family living in northern England headed by a Pakistani father (masterfully portrayed by Om Puri) and an English mother (touchingly essayed by Linda Bassett), and West is West, its similarly part dramatic, part comic sequel made 11 years after, the initial impression that the viewer will get is of there being a clash of cultures and civilizations that threatens to tear apart a family in the process.

*Vague spoiler alert* In both works though, there are shown to be ties between family members that are strong and do bind. And while certain individuals are shown to have undoubted faults that can make the lives of others pretty hard at times, there also is a lot of love in evidence -- which often results in scenes that tug at one's heart strings and make the likes of me tear up as well as put lumps into one's throat. *End of spoiler alert*

Set in the 1970s, West is West begins in working class Salford with George Khan (Om Puri) and his wife Ella (Linda Bassett) still running a chippy but with just one child, youngest son Sajid (the precocious Aqib Khan), still living with them. Said child often plays truant from school because he gets bullied by his schoolmates as a consequence of his father being Pakistani rather than Caucasian. He also rather understandably reacts to his situation by rejecting the Pakistani part of his heritage.

Matters come to a head one day when he not only gets caught for shoplifting but also calls his father a "Paki" (a negative slang term used for a Pakistani person in Britain). Determining that drastic action is needed, George packs Sajid off to Pakistan -- and also decides to go along with him on a trip to his country of origin -- where his first wife (touchingly portrayed by Ila Arun) and two daughters live but he has not returned to for some 30 years.

In Pakistan, Sajid encounters a range of exotic sights (Camels! Graves of old Moghul soldiers!! A magnificent ruin!!!), lots of family members (including his brother Maneer (Emil Marwa)), new friends and a wonderfully sage mentor (charmingly played by Nadim Sawalha). In short, a place he had been loathed to go to turns out to be a place where he gets to have many wonderful times and experiences. Alternatively, contrary to his expectations, George finds that going back to a place where he is known as Jahangir actually isn't all that pleasant and easy...

On a personal note: Watching West is West, I couldn't help reflecting on my own life and how much it has changed since I first viewed East is East. At the time, I was living in Philadelphia, leading what seemed like another life -- one which saw me screening that film to my students for a course (on ethnicity, for those interested to know!) that also saw me also use Comrades, Almost a Love Story as instructional material.

More than a decade on, I live on the other side of the world in Hong Kong -- where West is West is being shown as part of the Asia Society's Asian Reflections summer film series -- and far outside of the groves of academe. And my personal experience is that it's not only other places in the world that can feel and be foreign. Rather, it's also the case that, to quote another English writer -- L.P. Hartley this time -- "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently over there"!

My rating for this film: 8.5


Diana said...

I remember seeing "East is East," wow, was that really 1999? I remember really enjoying this film despite not understanding much of the cultural aspects. The actor that played the father did such a great job. I both hated and sympathized with him. Thanks for the flashback, my changes are less dramatic but I found it fun nonetheless.

YTSL said...

Hi Diana --

Did you watch "East is East" in the cinema when it first came out? I only have ever watched it on a video tape! In any case, if you enjoyed that 1999 movie, I think you'll also like its 2010 sequel. (And yes, Om Puri does a very good job in this one too!) :)

Diana said...

Yes, I saw it in the theater. I used to go out to see films more back then. I put "West is West" in my Netflix queue last night but it is in the "saved" section, which means they don't have it yet. The New York Public Library has it, I can probably get it faster thru them.

I have seen Om Puri in other films (hard to get most of his work) and think he is up there with anyone you can name as a top actor. He never disappoints me.

YTSL said...

Hi again Diana --

Good luck in your quest to watch "West is West". And wow re your estimation of Om Puri! Have you seen his Indian films? I have to admit that I have not...

Diana said...

No, just his English language films as far as I can remember. I haven't seen many Indian films and probably wouldn't recognize the titles of the ones I have. It might be excessive to say that on such little viewing but he always stands out to me when I see him in a film and not in a scene-stealing sort of way, but a "wow this guy is good" way.

YTSL said...

Hi once more Diana --

I haven't seen many Indian films either. (With the Bollywood musicals: the bits people like -- i.e., the dance and music numbers -- I find distracting from the plot!) But I can see why you think Om Puri is a great actor. He gets under the skin of characters and makes them more human than the one dimensional sterotypes that they could easily be under far less capable hands.