Following in the gigantic wake of East Is East which remains one of the most critically acclaimed and internationally well-received British independent films, West Is West is a surprisingly entertaining if slightly unrealized sequel.
The new and improved 15 year old Sajid Khan emerges with spectacular ease in Aqib Khan and his bald adolescent contempt for, well, just about everything. School is simply a reluctant game of cat and mouse (where he’s always the mouse) whilst home is ruled by the ever-turbulent dictator George Khan. Sajid is therefore stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place in 1975 Salford and rebels like any disillusioned teenager would: petty crime, filthy language and a quiet but seething resentment of the world, East as well as West.
In a final attempt to discipline the boy and awaken his cultural heritage, George leaves his long-suffering but devoted wife Ella in charge of the family chippy and drags his youngest son to a remote Pakistani village in the middle of the vivid, dusty, alien land of the Punjab. Sajid is obviously less than pleased with the situation; I mean who wants to shit in a field?
The runt of the Khan litter makes it his mission to find his elder brother Maneer a wife as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery with his new found friend Zaid and wise mentor Pir Naseem etc, etc… Sajid’s story certainly puts the comic bounce in Ayub Khan-Din’s thought-provoking emotional scramble and Aqib Khan proves himself as a natural talent but to dismiss this film as a simple coming-of-age comedy (as the trailers and colourful dysfunctional happy family posters might lead you to do so) would be a crying shame because the real story is quite unique.
When George Khan returns to Pakistan he is reunited with a family he silently abandoned more than 30 years before, including his half-ruined first wife Basheera and two sceptical and guarded daughters. George’s subsequent quest for redemption and the disintegration of his pride and patriarchal reign provides us with a fascinating and truly watchable character. When second wife Ella arrives unexpectedly to confront her husband, all porcelain skin and blousey Mancunian scorn, the image is just priceless. West Is West is ultimately preoccupied with the quality, legitimacy and transformations within all relationships, be them cultural, marital or platonic. The film is impressively moving in places and perhaps its most significant downfall lies in the artificial attempts to retread the path paved by East Is East.
In terms of the film’s coherence as a sequel it’s difficult not to take poet Rudyard Kipling at his word -“East Is East and West Is West and never the twain shall meet.” Andy DeEmmony has undeniably made a fine first feature with plenty of giggles, Eastern adventure and brassy British overtones. However the film is lacking as an authentic successor to East Is East’s illustrious throne of curry sauce and satire. The unresolved guilt in George Khan’s past is so prominent and Om Puri’s performance so disarmingly raw and emotional that it’s difficult to get completely comfy during the fluffy comic moments of the film. That said it’s still a lot of fun.