East Is East

             Actor Ayub Khan Din (Sammy and Rosie Get Laid) turned to
     autobiography when he penned his first play, 1996's widely heralded
East Is East, a comedy-drama about growing up in Salford, England in
     a biracial family. Khan Din found universal truths in his story of a
     traditional-minded Pakistani father, his strong-willed British wife and their
     children who consider themselves English and rebel against the father's
     dictates. Set in 1971 as India and Pakistan are warring over control of
     Kashmir, the play East is East limned a domestic drama that focused
     almost entirely on the patriarch, George. In adapting his stage work as a
     film, Khan-Din has fleshed out the children more (albeit a bit sketchily
     -- they are distinguished more by character trait, therefore, we have the
     playboy, the artist, the tomboy, the religious zealot, etc.) The play had
     two main settings, the family home and the fish and chip shop operated
     by George and his wife Ella.

             Wisely, Khan Din working in tandem with Irish director Damian
     O'Donnell have opted to "open up" the story, incorporating the
     neighborhood as a character. The filmmakers also retained original cast
     members Linda Bassett as Ella and Jimi Mistry, Emil Marwa and Chris
     Bisson as three of the sons. For the pivotal role of George, the
     esteemed Indian actor Om Puri was hired and it is doubtful any other
     actor could have done justice to the part. Previously, Puri starred in
My Son the Fanatic, playing the flip side of George, a cab driver willing
     to assimilate. Here, his George Khan attempts to retain as much of his
     Pakistani heritage as possible, including the valued position as leader
     of the family.

             The film's opening scenes immediately establish the conflicts.
     Under Ella's watchful eye, the children are participating in a religious
     parade, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. When George is spotted on
     the street, the youngsters must hide, ducking in alleyways until their
     father passes and they can rejoin the festivities. Then there is the
     celebration of the marriage (arranged by George) of eldest son Nazir,
     who shames the family by bolting just as the ceremony begins. O'Donnell
     cuts to a wall of family photographs, showing the empty space where
     Nazir's picture once hung. The remainder of this episodic film tracks the
     growing rebellion of the children against the intractability of their father
     -- a timeless theme in literature. Parents struggling to let go all the
     while trying to control their children out of a misguided love has been
     a theme in numerous films.

             O'Donnell shows a flair for film, nicely using the camera to good
     effect. Om Puri, with his pockmarked face and strong physical presence,
     makes for a commanding George. He is completely believable as a man
     struggling with changing times, unwilling or unable to accept the events
     unfolding around him. As he grows more impotent in the lives of his family,
     he seethes and churns until his anger finally erupts in a disturbing scene
     of domestic violence. Puri makes this difficult transition understandable         
     and believable. Matching him in intensity is the superlative Linda Bassett.
     She and Puri share an easy warmth and a nice chemistry; they are wholly
     believable as a long-married couple. Each of the young actors playing the
     children all acquit themselves well, with Jimi Mistry perhaps scoring the
     most points as the fun-loving second oldest son who vocalizes the younger
     generation's differences to his father.

             Ignoring the cheap comedy in the last few scenes (including a couple
     of sight gags, one of which involves a sculpture),
East Is East breezes
     along at an enjoyable pace. O'Donnell and Khan Din have found the right
     balance between the innate humor found in cultures clashing and the
     darker undercurrents of pain and anger. The director has also coaxed two
     stellar performances from his leads; Puri and Bassett alone make this film
     worth viewing.

                                        Rating:     B+
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.