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In 1971 Salford fish-and-chip shop owner George Khan expects his family to follow his strict Pakistani Muslim ways. But his children, with an English mother and having been born and brought up in Britain, increasingly see themselves as British and start to reject their father's rules on dress, food, religion, and living in general. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
`East is East,' something of a modern day version of `Fiddler on the Roof,' explores the culture clash that occurs in the context of a half Pakistani/half British family living in early 1970's England. George Khan is a Muslim who, upon immigrating to Great Britain in 1937, married a British woman despite the fact that his first wife still lives in Pakistan. Now, twenty five years later, the still happily married couple lives in a small apartment with their daughter and six sons all of whom have been raised to honor their father's religion and traditions. Yet, like Tevye, George is suddenly confronted with the fact that, as times change and the world moves on, the younger generation will no longer abide by the archaic rituals of an ancient age. In many ways, this is the flip side of `Fiddler' in that here the reluctant marriage partners are sons and not daughters. For indeed, George's ultimate goal in life is to arrange marriages for his teenaged sons within the accepted tradition of the Muslim faith. But culture is often a force that parents try in vain to withstand and these children, raised in the far more open and liberated society of `mod' England, are not about to take such dictatorial parental control lying down.
In the script based on his play, Ayub Khan-Din provides an evenhanded and comprehensive view of the situation. George is not presented to us as an inflexible or unreasonable ogre, yet at the same time, he will, in his frustration, strike out even physically at the children and the wife who seem to oppose him. We sense the fear that runs through him that, if his sons are allowed to exercise their freedom in this one crucial area, the family will sever that connection with the past which brings stability to their lives. Thus, without any traditions to anchor them, George dreads that he and the family will be cut adrift in a seemingly rudderless world that suddenly seems in the 1970's to be in such great and terrifying moral flux. Moreover, we are left to ponder the strange contradiction between George's own words and the choices he himself has made. After all, his opting to marry a British woman who does not share the tenets of his faith obviously went beyond the bounds of the very traditions he is now so dogmatically insisting his sons uphold. This type of ambiguity within the characters enhances their credibility, for indeed life and the people we meet therein come replete with such maddening inconsistencies.
Khan-Din and director Damien O'Donnell establish an effective balance between low-key humor and occasionally searing drama. The relationship between the husband and wife who comprise this interracial marriage is complexly realized and fully drawn; the obvious difficulties the two have experienced as a result of the nonconformity of their union has obviously strengthened their devotion to one another and they appear to greatly enjoy each other's company. She has undoubtedly made any number of concessions and compromises to her husband's belief system, yet she has retained her British feistiness and knows how far to let George go before she draws the line, especially when it comes to protecting the rights and happiness of her own progeny. In a similar way, we see, in thorough detail, the complexities that make up the two very different sets of relationships between the respective parents and their children. Din and O'Donnell have, wisely, chosen to limit the scope of their film by downplaying the broader theme of how a suspicious and prejudiced society deals with so unconventional a marriage and family. We see only bits and pieces of this in the form of bigoted comments uttered by a disapproving neighbor and a mere mention of a political rally intended to rouse the populace on the issue of `repatriation.' Instead, the authors concentrate almost exclusively on the internecine struggles taking place within this one family. This helps to keep the scale of the film life-sized, thus enhancing our identification with the characters and their universal parent/child conflicts. For, in a way, the Khan family is really not undergoing any crisis not already familiar to countless families the world over, as parents cope with children eager to cut the filial chords and establish life on their own terms and as children, likewise, deal with parents who want to determine the course those lives will take. The Khans just happen to provide a more heightened and intensified view of this subject.
`East is East' is a small movie but an absorbing one. Thanks to uniformly excellent performances from a gifted cast and a careful modulation between humor and drama, the film emerges as a compelling and insightful glimpse into a life that is, as for all of us, so full of both terrifying and wonderful complexity.
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