When East Meets West
The year is 1971 and proud Muslim George Khan (Om Puri) expects his 6 boys and 1 daughter to follow the strict ways of being a Muslim. But his children having been raised in England and by Ella (Linda Bassett) their English mother don't see themselves as Muslims but British and their rejection of the faith brings things to a head in the Khan household especially when George tries to arrange marriages for his eldest boys.
The simplest way to describe what "East Is East" is to say it is about cultural differences which centre on the Khan household in Salford back in 1971. On one hand you have George who came to England in 1937 and whilst marrying Ella, an English woman, is still very traditional when it comes to his Muslim faith and as such wants his children to grow up steeped in Muslim tradition. As such George not only wants to arrange marriages for them but expects them to follow the Muslim faith which in the case of poor Sajid means that he must be circumcised, something which was forgotten about when he was a baby. But then having a white mother and having been raised in England George's children don't see themselves as Muslim and when George isn't looking do very un-Muslim like stuff from eating bacon through to sneaking out to night clubs. It boils down to the young Khan men growing tired of George's dictatorial reign as he organizes brides for them and things coming crashing together as they end up rallying against their father.
The thing about "East Is East", the thing which makes it so good is that it manages to be realistic and dramatic yet also very funny. For example a scene where young Sajid is discovered not to have been circumcised is funny yet that brings in the more real and dramatic side where George on learning this flips and orders that his young son be circumcised immediately. It's not so much clever but it is well worked because it allows us to laugh at the real world but never softening the dramatic side of the story so that it just becomes a joke. But at the same time director Damien O'Donnell knows when not to make light of things and there are moments of shocking drama which speak volumes of not only how George feels but also as to how things were back in the 70s for a mixed race Muslim family.
A big reason why "East Is East" works is down to the casting and in many ways it is the fact that there are recognizable faces in various roles helps it work. What I mean is that there are several roles both major and minor featuring actors such as Chris Bisson, Jimi Mistry, Jimmi Harkishin and John Bardon who UK audiences will recognize from various soap operas. But whilst these actors and to be honest all the cast put in very good performances "East is East" belongs to Om Puri who as George Khan is captivating. He's captivating because in many ways he is a contradiction from being a Muslim with a Yorkshire accent whose every other word seems to be bloody through to is hypocrisy over his faith. You sort of get that he is so desperate for his boys to be upstanding Muslims because of his own choice of marrying an English woman and you can see the fear and anger building up inside him when they don't want to follow his ways.
What this all boils down to is that "East Is East" is a pleasant surprise because on paper a movie which looks at cultural difference during the early 70s doesn't sound that great. But with its perfect blend of comedy and drama "East Is East" is both fascinating and amusing and to be honest eye opening as you begin to appreciate the difficulties which faced a mixed race Muslim family in the 1970s.