Directed by Andy DeEmmony. Starring Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Aqib Khan, Ila Arun, Jimi Mistry.
A decade later, West is West is the sequel to the cross-border comedy East is East (which was based on a stage play by Ayub Khan Din), with Om Puri as the Pakistani in England in the 70s trying to fit in with his Brit wife and mixed race sons but still retain his cultural roots. This film is a warm, charming story about family politics and accepting your individuality.
We’re back with the Khan family in Salford, England. George (Puri) and his Brit wife Ella (Bassett) run their chippy chop (fish and chips shop) and their son Sajid (Aqib) runs… well from the bullies in his school who don’t like his Pakistani father. Not fitting in anywhere, being lectured about his roots when his own father has changed his name from Jahangir to George, Sajid rebels. At his wits end, George decides to pack his bags and take his young son to the native village he himself abandoned 30 years ago for a better life. In that village, he left behind his parents, a wife (Arun) and several daughters who he never saw again but would send money and letters to from England. As you can imagine, it’s an awkward family reunion.
Now writer Ayub Khan Din (whose stage play was turned into the hit East is East) in an interview recently said that this film was never meant to be a sequel but rather a ‘movie about identity and your place in the world.’ Which is bang on since the film isn’t uproariously funny though it has its laughs. When George returns to the village, where his older mixed Brit-Pak son Maneer (Emil Marwa) has been sent to a while ago to find himself a bride, he finds a lot more than he bargained for. Having to confront the family he abandoned and the life he chose to leave behind, he faces some inner demons and his guilt forces him to linger on. Of course, younger son Sajid needs to be ‘taught’ about his traditions and he enlists the aid of Pir Naseem, a philosopher and guide who manages to slowly bring Sajid closer to his own identity and to his father.
What I love about West is West is that it’s a simple story with simple emotions. There’s this wonderful scene between the two wives — yes Ella comes down to find out what the devil George has been upto — where neither of them speaks the same language but they convey their feelings magnificently. There’s also the bond that develops between Sajid and a village boy called Tanvir who helps him find a wife for his brother Maneer. After they do, there’s the cliché Punjabi wedding with the bhangra that the English are so enamoured by. Though I have to say, Sajid’s storyline does sort of get lost by the end.
Om Puri plays the guilt-ridden Jahangir-George so well that you sympathise with him for leaving his families, one in Pakistan and then the other in England. Bassett and Ila Arun are also marvellous talents. The young Aqib Khan is funny, cute, obnoxious and cocky, bringing out all the characteristics of a Brit boy taken out of his fish bowl and plunged into a bullock cart.