Friday, June 10, 2011

West Is West review

Director: Andy DeEmmony
Starring: Om Puri, Aqib Khan, Linda Bassett, Ila Arun, Vijay Raaz
Rating: ***

In East Is East we saw a harried Jehangir Khan aka George (Om Puri) with his dysfunctional Anglo Pakistani family, running his shop along with his firang wife Ella (Linda Bassett), and trying fruitlessly to instill a sense of Muslim rootedness and tradition in his seven children. The family lives in Salford, UK in lower middle class circumstances.

Twelve years later, the makers have come up with the sequel to the British comic-drama, where Jehangir is disappointed that most of children have turned completely English. The period is still 1970s. His last hope rests with his youngest son, Sajid (Aqib Khan). He is keen that the teenager should develop pride for his Pakistani roots. However Sajid is a tough cookie, and is already upset at being referred to as 'Paki by a few school bullies. He is not willing to bend down to his father's tyrannical ways.

The scene ends in a showdown, and Jehangir is determined than ever before to turn his son around. He brings him to his village in Pakistan (the shooting happened in Chandigarh) to the house where his first wife (Ila Arun) and her daughters live. The script doesn't shy away from bringing out Jehangir's callousness in dumping his family and not bothering to visit them in 30 years. He sends them money, but beyond that, he’s been largely unconcerned about them all these years. His grown-up daughters are surprised at his visit and cannot hide their resentment. They accept his small, token gifts with forced smiles.

There's a wonderfully poignant scene where his first wife --- though irrevocably scarred --- for the first time in years perhaps bothers to check her weather-beaten face in the mirror and make herself presentable before her husband. She enters his room tentatively, with the hope he might need her in bed. You realise her own despondency of living without a man for so many years. Jehangir senses this, and gets uncomfortable. Without meeting her eyes, he says he's very tired and shifts in the bed. The wife comes out and weeps quietly, knowing nothing can change now. This is the single-most effective scene in the film.

In the meanwhile, Jehangir wants his younger son to adapt to his new surroundings and entrusts him with a sage. Sajid initially hates the new place calling it a 'dump, but slowly warms up to it. Meanwhile, Jehangir is also looking for an appropriate bride for his eldest and most obedient of all his sons, who has been staying in Pakistan for a year. In all this, his British wife, Ella comes down and some more chaos follows.

West Is West is languorous, spacious film, never in a hurry to fill up the time. Most characters are shown to speak in English, even if it is broken. This seems unrealistic, but can be viewed as permissable cinematic liberty. When the two wives come together, there are the obvious fireworks, but in a few days, both slip into an empathetic calm and even have a heart to heart chat. Even though Ella has stayed with her husband, she points out to the Pakistani women - in a moment of agony - that she too has suffered and that her life has been no easier.

In all this, it is easy to detest Om Puri's character, but you don't. There is an innate warm-heartedness to him. He is very vain and proud, which makes him seem acutely vulnerable and pathetic when his importance is undermined. The film has flaws - the sub plot about his eldest son and his marriage hunt is not too well-etched. Also the theme of identity and belongingness that the writer tries to bring forth through Sajid's character is somewhat half-baked. But there are enough nuances and subtleties to carry the film through and make it interesting enough.


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