East Is East
Directed by Damien O'Donnell
Review by Matt Heffernan
One of the biggest hit films in the U.K. last winter was Damien O'Donnell's East is East. It won the British Academy Award for Best British Film (losing the overall Best Film Award to American Beauty). Now, this film comes stateside, but will it get the same recognition?
In Manchester during the early 1970s, Pakistani immigrant George Khan (Om Puri) and his English wife Ella (Linda Bassett) have enjoyed (or rather, endured) 25 years of marriage and raising seven children. George has arranged a marriage for his eldest son, Nazir (Ian Aspinall), to a Pakistani girl, but he runs away at the altar. George is a very strict disciplinarian, and a devout Muslim, so this disrespect of tradition causes him to consider Nazir dead and his family disgraced.
In an attempt to remedy the situation, he arranges his next two sons, Tariq (Jimi Mistry) and Abdul (Raji James), to marry two homely sisters from the predominantly Pakistani town of Bradford. They want nothing to do with the agreement, especially Tariq, who has been dating an English girl for some time. In fact, all of the children consider themselves English, not "Paki", and George is losing their respect, along with Ella's.
As you can see, East is East deals with some very serious themes, some of which I have not even touched upon. But, this film is essentially a comedy, finding jokes on a very human level. This is not a family of sitcom characters, exchanging uncharacteristic jabs with each other. George is a real tyrant, and is played by Puri with honesty. He is conflicted by his idea of a father being a dominant figure, and his role as a modern British father.
Puri is the only well-established actor in the film. The rest of the cast have made only a few films apiece, some television work, or are making their debuts. However, they all come off as seasoned professionals, thanks to a great discovery of talent by O'Donnell, and a well-crafted screenplay by Ayub Khan-Din -- who adapted it from his acclaimed stage play.
It is difficult to sell any British film in America, and one that deals specifically with the Pakistani-British community is a real challenge. Hopefully, the decent business that it is doing in a limited release will help the distributor realize that this film does have a wide audience. You don't need to be from England or Pakistan to relate to the story of a family.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
East Is East (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan