Dir. Andy de Emmony. UK. 2010.

Film Review and Q&A with Andy de Emmony.
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The long anticipated and hoped for sequel of the 1999 box office success 'East is East' was released by Icon Home Entertainment on 20 June, 2011.

The film with the wish of Aybu Khan-Din is written not so much as a sequel but as a stand-alone film in its own right, and for the most part it proves a successful follow-up to the film that won a Bafta for Outstanding British Film.  The cast return en masse (although Jimi Mistry fans will feel slightly short changed).

The original film was ground breaking in that it brought subject matter previously unheralded to the big screen; inter-racial marriage set against the backdrop of 1970s working class Salford,Manchester with all its contexts of class and social status.  The idea of a white woman marrying a Pakistani and the hatred that such things may incite were addressed, but the violence is reserved for the cold hand of George Khan (Om Puri) who beats up his wife in the back office of their chip shop.  Whilst played and marketed for laughs, the original did have its darker moments.

'West is West' focuses on Sajid (Aqib Khan - in his first role), the youngest son, who is rebellious playing truant from school and avoiding bullies who berate him as a 'Paki' thus causing worries about his identiy and reluctance to accept his mixed heritage and hating his father.  The need for discipline and restraint in the young tearaway leads George to take him to his homeland in Pakistan to the family home he abandoned 30 years previously to marry Ella (Linda Bassett).

Mostly played for laughs, but asking genuine questions about identity and belonging not just to your race but your family home; the film has these major questions but has a lovely parallel narrative surrounding Nemar (the middle son) and his quest for a wife. This narrative garners the most laughs as the bride he chooses proves to be more than meets the eye.  Sajid and George's narrative journeys are directed with a humility and subtlety which is with thanks to the direction of Andy de Emmony, who has a long track record in television drama, and this comes to the fore in his feature length debut effort.

Beautifully shot by Peter Robinson, again making Pakistan (though the film was shot in Indian Punjab for insurance purposes) look as beautiful as Chris Menges did for 'Slumdog' and it is this debt to that Oscar winning film that gives this film not a rose-tinted view of the world, but a serious enough tone to go in balance with the humour that comes from Sajid's escapades as a hermit attempts to teach him lessons about life by stating the obvious and making the youngster discover it for himself.

Great performances by all concerned, most notably Aqid Khan who with no training instills Sajid with a bit of Malcolm McDowell mixed with Alex Turner, giving poetry to such profanity he sometimes spouts and Ila Arun, as Basheera Khan, the first wife who shows the vulnerability of her husband's abandonment in her aged face; though talking only Punjab she instills the character with such grandeur and poise it is striking and the scene with her and the second Mrs. Khan are startling.

Khan-Din (and the producer, Leslie Unwin) gets the wish of having the film stand on its own, and though it might not garner the same box office and clamour as its predecessor did it still deserves credit for being a work of supreme technical accomplishment and maturity. A straight drama with comedic appeal in this day and age of hook and gimmicks.

There may be a third film to complete the trifecta, possibly following Sajid's attempts to get married himself - maybe this will be played for laughs; but as long as this cast remains the same, there remains the key to its ever growing appeal.

Distributed by Icon Home Productions for £17.99 RRP on both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Andy de Emmony Q&A

1. What firstly drew you to the film?

 I loved 'East is East', and found it quite daunting but on this occasion you get a more three dimensional character of George and it serves as a bookend to the first film. Ayub wanted to complete after the first film and it felt fresh even though it is the same family but on a different journey.

Director Andy de Emmony2. What do you remember of the original, 'East is East'?

I remember being drawn to the family aspect, and that generational gap within a family and where do you fit in.  But also the use of comedy as a release valve for the emotion present.

3. What was your working relationship with Ayub Khan Din?

We had a very good working relationship with Ayub, they came to me to collaborate after Damien O'Donnell did not chose to be involved.  And in spite of the autobiographical content he did not see it as a biopic, and instead lets just make the film work which gave us a lot of freedom.

4. What were the pros and cons of shooting in a foreign country?

 I found it quite daunting to work in India, but a pro was the manpower which allowed you flexibility (The house built by George in the film was built in 5 days by this manpower) and the long days allowed us to shoot longer in the days in comparison to England.  A pro would be the language barrier, as about 20% of the script is in Punjab and in the end it came down to reading looks of actors, and even some of the actors who spoke Punjab in the film had to have voice coaches for certain scenes. 

5.What happened to Jimi Mistry's role? And were you impressed by the debutant Aqib Khan?

Jimi Mistry's role was written bigger, but the focus was on Sajid the youngest, his story and journey.  And Aqib was brilliant, he had a temperament that fitted the character and he was helped by the components and good actors we put around him.

6. Is there going to be a third film?

The producer, Leslee Udwin, has always seen the film as a possible trilogy and there is a proposal in place if people connect to this film like they did 'East is East'

7. How do you react to criticism of the film being 'quaint' or 'too much like a sitcom'.

I think when you make a film about a family it is hard to contain it and I hope the audience can reconnect and new audiences connect with these characters and laugh with them.  I felt if we had made a sweeping political statement about Pakistan, the family story and emotional bond would have been lost in the mix.

8. What have you been up to recently and what is next?

I have been shooting commercials in Australia, but we are waiting for funding [like most people in Britain] for a film written by William Boyd ('Chaplin', 'Any Human Heart') called 'The Galapagos Affair', based on John Treherne's novel, which we hope we start shooting soon.

Jamie Garwood

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