Making a movie sequel is a risky business. The odds of recreating success and pleasing fans second time round are low. But British producer Leslee Udwin knows a winning formula when she sees one, and so ten years after the box office and critical success of East Is East presents (you guessed it) West Is West.
Hedging her bets by ensuring many of the original cast reprises their roles and entrusting Ayub Khan-Din to write from personal experience once more, Udwin’s gamble pays off.
Picking up a few years later from where East if East left off it’s still the Seventies, grim up north in Salford and the Khan family are as just as dysfunctional as ever. Young Sajid (newcomer Aqib Khan) may have lost his Parka, but he remains a cheeky little bugger who dreads the wrath of his family at home and the racist bullies at school who call him a ‘Paki’ while flushing his head down the toilet. Being walked to school everyday by his dictator father George (‘Ghengis’) Khan (Om Puri) doesn’t help. Neither does his bunking off which eventually leads to George deciding to teach the young boy some ‘bloody respect’ by taking him on an educational trip to Pakistan.
Besides curing his wayward son, George has two other more important missions in mind once back in the homeland. Firstly to get his sensible elder son Maneer (Emil Marwa) married off to a good Pakistani girl, and secondly to reunite with Basheera (Ila Arun), aka Mrs Khan No 1, and the daughters he left behind. But things don’t according to plan when the locals don’t take kindly to his mixed race ‘mongrel’ children and a fuming Ella (Linda Bassett), aka Mrs Khan No 2, turns up in a garish Crimplene outfit along with giggly neighbour Annie (Lelsey Nicol) demanding to know why he’s been gone so long.
With tempers flaring and personal honour at stake, it’s the Brits verses the Pakistanis with George and Sajid caught in the middle. Stopping the drama from turning into melodrama is British television turned film director Andy DeEmmony. Having previously directed the BBC adaptation of Meera Syal’s novel Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, he knows how to handle Asian subjects and characters with sensitivity. What results is a touching family story with generous sprinkles of comedy.
The culture clash and shock experienced by first generation British Asians like Khan-Din who have fond but tormented memories of their parents carting them off to their ancestral village is convincingly portrayed. Like Sajid, having to cope with no electricity, Top of the Pops and sit down loo in Pakistan is as big a jolt as the opportunity to explore the country’s beautiful landscapes and learn about personal identity and history. As a second generation Indian kid in the 80s who recalls the horror of realising that there was Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets in the Punjab but plenty of mischievous cousins and green fields in which to play, I can fully relate to that.
A semi-autobiographical account of screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din’s own life experiences, like East Is East, West Is West rings true. Nothing feels far fetched, bar a local Sufi holy man character who turns out to be the only adult who can connect with teenage angst ridden Sajid.
While it may not have the acerbic wit of East Is East, what West Is West does have is plenty of heart. Even the brute that is George Khan acknowledges his faults once haunted by the family he ignored for three decades. Veteran Puri puts in another memorable leading performance, as does Jimi Mistry as elder brother Tariq in a glimpse and you miss it appearance. But the show stealer is undoubtedly first time actor Aqib Khan, a sixteen year old student from Bradford with comic timing and delivery par excellence. A bright talent to watch out for, move over Dev Patel!
At a time when most news and cinema about British Muslims and Pakistani centres on terrorism, political unrest and natural disasters, it’s a welcomed relief to see both the people and their land portrayed in alternative, all be it nostalgic, light.
As one of the highlights of the 2010 London Film Festival, West Is West got a warm reception. Well deserved it was too. A great example of heart warming British comedy, the film helps draw attention to the strength of home grown writing, acting and filmmaking talent. With a third instalment in the planning, I for one can’t wait to see the East meets West trilogy complete.
West Is West goes on general UK release on 25th February 2011.