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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 <email@example.com>
Writer Ayub Khan-Din based the story on several of his own life-experiences growing up with a multi-cultural family. See more »
In the scene when they are in Bradford, Ella and her daughter are in the kitchen. Ella comforts her friend because she is upset about her daughter in Pakistan. In the background on the painting on the wall you can see the reflection of the boom mic as it goes up. See more »
Solid slice of nostalgia, but something of a wasted opportunity.
Damien O'Donnel's bright and colourful comedy drama is, for the most part, an entertaining and nostalgic tale of the conflicts within a mixed-race family in early seventies Manchester. A hit in the UK upon release the film also did modest business in the US helped by a marketing campaign that promoted it as a breezy comedy but the film also tackles the serious question of what it was, and what it is, to be young, Asian and British. It's curious, and perhaps a little disappointing, that despite the early seventies setting the film steadfastly refuses to tackle the broader issue of racism in any depth. At a time when Enoch Powell was extolling the virtues of repatriation and the nations favourite sitcom was 'From Death Us Do Part' (or possibly 'Love Thy Neighbour') the worst any character in East Is East has to contend with is a shifty look from a nightclub bouncer. Powell does have a brief cameo, as a poster on a window that the family's daughter Meenah (Archie Panjabi) smashes in a defiant demonstration of her footy skills. It's a nice moment, a teenage Asian girl kicking in Enoch's head with a soccer ball What would Alf Garnett say? Unfortunately we don't get to find out as the films only really abusive white character (Who bears a suspicious resemblance to Johnny Spate's 'lovable racist') only appears a couple of times to mutter something about 'Bloody Pakis' or 'Pickininies'. The conflict between Indians and Pakistanis is given a similar treatment, with George expressing his distaste for "Those cow worshipping bastards" and the contemporary conflict on the subcontinent being relayed on the family's radio. Again, however, this seems more to add colour and humour than for any other purpose. Perhaps O'Donnell felt that a deeper examination of these issues would detract from the theme of Asian/British identity and it's true that other British features have dealt with the subjects in greater detail. Having said that it might have been an idea to make a passing reference to the fact that racial prejudice, while not necessarily any more commonplace than today, was certainly seen as more acceptable. Of course, despite the considerable attention to period detail, 'East Is East' lays no claim to painstaking factual accuracy. There's a fairytale like quality to the film heightened by the Bollywood-style primary colours that frequently contrast with the drab Salford landscape. This viewer was reminded of Hettie MacDonald's council estate love story 'Beautiful Thing', like this based on a stage play with a script by the original author. Both of these films employ a subtle heightened sense of reality that suggests a half remembered childhood memory. One marvellous sequence set in a Bradford Asian flea pit (The 'Moti Mahal') sees the entire Khan clan sitting transfixed during the latest Bollywood epic. It's that rare occasion when the conflicts within the family can be forgotten in favour of a fleeting moment of escapism. And conflicts there are, because the real meat of the film concerns the alienation that exists between the rigidly traditionalist George and the other family members. Played, with a mix of bumbling comedy and genuine menace, by Omi Puri George is certain he knows what's best for his children, not to mention his wife. He wants the kids to learn Urdu but they refuse to study, his precious sons should marry into another Pakistani family of his choosing but they want to screw around with white girls and his wife refuses to show the respect that is demanded in a Muslim marriage. George, while not exactly an anachronism he gets plenty of understanding from the like minded down at the local Mosque is a man who cannot see that his children are not like him. Their only sense of the 'homeland' is through their father and the traditions he imposes upon them. It's not surprising then that they consider themselves unequivocally British. Upon arrival in Bradford one of the youngsters takes a look at the locals and shouts excitedly "There's 'undreds of 'em!" In a way it's a shame that the family is mixed race. Not enough is done with this to really justify it and how much more impact the conflict between George and Ella (Linda Bassett) would have been were she also Asian. The fact that the Khan children are half Caucasian also simplifies the question of British-Asian identity a little too needlessly. All of this might suggest a rather dry, even depressing film, but like the colourful feature playing at the Moti Mahal 'East Is East' never forgets it's primary function is to entertain. This is, after all, essentially a comedy and it's frequently very funny indeed. The humour ranges from extremely broad a scene involving the 'banished' sons new life as manager of a 'swinging' London Boutique and another involving a latex vagina could both have come from an 'Austin Powers' movie to the grimly dark. The best example of this might be youngest son Sajid's (Who lives permanently inside his Parka like a prototype for 'South Park's Kenny) trip to hospital for a circumcision. Towards the end of the film, in a moment mirroring this, he has the hood of his jacket unceremoniously ripped off and is finally exposed to the outside world, or as close to the outside world as George allows the family to get. Clearly Khan-Din's surrogate in the film (Himself a Salford boy who would have been ten in 1971) much of 'East Is East' is viewed through his eyes and from this perspective the film can be seen as something of a 'coming of age' tale. While not entirely successful 'East Is East' is still a welcome addition to the increasing ranks of British-based Asian cinema and television. Seemingly made with a broad audience in mind it, nevertheless, takes up some serious issues. It's just a shame the filmmakers weren't willing to stick their necks out just a little bit further.
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