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East Is East
Starring: Om Puri, Linda Bassett
Directed By: Damien O'Donnell
By Molly Duignan
Racial and cultural assimilation. Domestic violence. Heart-wrenching surrender to authoritative power. Torn families.
Sound like a comedy?
Maybe not, but add some strong British accents, throw in some low-budget sitcom-like set-ups and a hilarious script and the culture clash of anglo-Asian relations in
East Is East appears harmlessly hilarious.
The film, adapted from the award-winning play by Ayub Khan-Din, settles in among other 1999 Brit hit films like
The Full Monty, but surpasses any other film of its multicultural genre.
Arguably quite autobiographical in plot,
East Is East takes place in Salford, Manchester, 1971 and follows the lives of the Khan household.
Famous comedic actor Om Puri plays the overbearing, stubborn Pakistani immigrant patriarch of the family. His English wife, Ella, (Linda Bassett) is fabulous as the household mediator.
The film's humour takes stabs at the pathetic type-casting of Asian men in clichéd Asian roles. The comedy here is used to uncover whether it is possible to combine two different cultures under one roof.
Khan-Din's story entertains while exploring problematic issues with the role of culture in the lives of British-born children of a mixed racial marriage.
The film's underlying political framework gives cause to the domestic conflicts going on inside the Khan house. The film takes place when violent wars for Bangladeshi independence raged in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in England, racist political figurehead Enoch Powell called for public support in a campaign for repatriation of non-white Commonwealth immigrants. Resonances of these political situations are always in the background of the film, adding a serious tone that illuminates how alienated immigrants felt at the time.
East Is East has been criticized for its use of comedy to glaze over the serious issues at the root of the film, one might argue that the humour makes the film more accessible to audiences, thus creating a wider base of viewers to understand its important message.
East Is East makes viewers think about the importance of maintaining culture in a culturally-unsupportive environment. It makes you consider the role of tradition in the lives of culturally assimilated children. It probes into the difficulties of finding and preserving one's identity within a world that refuses to acknowledge that identity.
East is East is hilarious and shocking, touching and frustrating and entirely worth watching.