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  East is East Cross Culture
Year: 1999
Director: Damien O'Donnell
Stars: Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jordan Routledge, Archie Panjabi, Emil Marwa, Chris Bisson, Jimi Mistry, Raji James, Ian Aspinall, Lesley Nicol, Emma Rydal, Ruth Jones, Ben Keaton, Kriss Dosanjh, John Bardon, Gary Damer, Albert Moses, Jimmi Harkishin, Gary Lewis
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Salford, Northern England, in 1971, and the family of George Khan (Om Puri) are struggling with the expectations of their strict, devoutly religious father, who runs the fish and chip shop in the area they live. The seven children are more comfortable with the idea of being British than their Pakistani roots, especially as their mother Ella (Linda Bassett) is a white Englishwoman, but they get by all right, that is until the fateful day when eldest brother Nazir (Ian Aspinall) is set for an arranged marriage. He goes through with the ceremony right up until the moment the veils are lifted - then does a runner...

One of the most successful British movies ever made at the time as far as its budget to takings ratio went, East is East was advertised as a broad, bawdy comedy of race relations, so when it took a darker turn late on in the story, many were caught out. Yet for all the uncertainty this twist elicited in its audience, actor (but not in this) Ayub Khan-Din adapted his own autobiographical play skillfully, so that the grimmer elements arose from the solid grounding what we had seen in the opening half. That's not to say the laughs dried up in the latter stages, as it was still offering the funnier moments, it's just that it had something sincere to observe about tradition and the extremes people can go to preserve it.

With a very fine ensemble cast, the film was certainly keen to embrace the humour to be found in many a dysfunctional family, while not shying away from the damage they inadvertently do to the individuals when a strong difference of opinion comes up. With each of the children distinctive in their own way, from the youngest, permanently parka-wearing Sajid (Jordan Routledge) to the absconding Nazir, banished by George who considered him dead from then on, there was ample opportunity for excellent interaction, with plenty examples of sharp tongued wit and roughhewn behaviour, sometimes in jest, other times not so much. We understand them immediately.

As the script resolved itself into a series of portraits of the characters, there were a number of scenic gems to appreciate. Take the sequence when Tariq (a permanently disgruntled-looking Jimi Mistry) gets to escape his stifling home life and cut a rug on the dancefloor, womanising and drinking in a manner that would not be welcomed by his father. His brother Abdul (Raji James, amusingly reticent but eager to try) tags along for the first time, which might have been an excuse for easy nostalgia prompting - this was released at the end of the nineties, a decade where the pop culture of twenty years before was the in thing - yet not only is it very funny, but it builds on the themes of culture clash.

The main problem George has is that he may have adopted Britain as his home, but he has not accepted its traditions as equal to his Pakistani origins, so he feels he has to emphasise this by putting his foot down and forcing his children to conform to his stern beliefs when they would prefer to be more multicultural. This may begin as lighthearted, but once he begins using violence to make his point, the tone is mixed with a seriousness that some viewers might not be prepared to go with, yet lends a depth to what could have been a "stick another old record on the soundtrack" wallow in the seventies. This is all played deftly, and the complications of such relationships are not glossed over in any way, resulting in a work that you may be surprised to be moved by, particularly in light of how crude it could have been in other hands. Filled with excellent scenes - the part where the Khans sit miserably watching The Clangers as Oliver Postgate's narration comments on their state of mind is inspired - East is East fully deserved its success. Music by Deborah Mollison.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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