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West Is West

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West Is West
Over a decade after the wonderful culture clash drama/comedy East Is East, comes West Is West, its belated follow-up. The film is set five years on, and first-timer Andy DeEmmony has replaced Damien O'Donnell in the director's chair following an apparent difference of opinion with the screenwriter. The film narrows its focus from the whole family to parents Ella and George 'Genghis' Khan (Linda Bassett and Om Puri) and youngest son Sajid (newcomer Aqib Khan). We get a quick cameo from Jimi Mistry as older brother Tariq early on, but the movie is all about Sajid and George. While it never quite matches the gritty homespun charm of its predecessor, West Is West is still a fine sequel which adds a welcome chapter as we catch up with the Khans a few years on.

In 1976, the reduced nucleus of the Khan family struggles along, with the now-teenaged Sajid devoid of his Parka but cloaked in trouble. Bullied by racists at school, he does his best to bunk off and go shoplifting for entertainment. After getting caught, there's fireworks at home when he exchanges some unpleasant words with his dad. George decides that the only way Sajid will learn is to go with him to Pakistan where his brother Maneer (Emil Marwa) is seeking a wife. Naturally, Sajid is far from interested in reconnecting to a country he can't even find on a map. Meanwhile, George himself is the one soon forced to reconcile two worlds as he is faced with the wife and children he left behind for a new life in England.

The setting moves from Salford to Pakistan, but as with the first movie it's the taut atmosphere of a single family which provides the real backdrop to events. Sensibly, Sajid's journey plays second fiddle to George's. In fact, the 15-year-old's coming-of-age is the weakest part of the film - his quick friendship with local boy Zaid and the holy man Pir Naseem is predictably simplistic, if sweet. Similarly, Sajid's plot to find Maneer a wife moves on at far too brisk and jaunty a pace to really have you rooting for him with much energy.

But, George is the heart of the film, and from his first confrontation with his wife-from-another-life Basheera (a heartbreaking turn from Ila Arun), your emotions are tugged this way and that. Again and again you find yourself feeling so much for George, despite - and perhaps because of - his flaws. Behind his absurd pride and stumbling lack of self-awareness, George emerges as a scared, lost wanderer who thought he was the Lord of two homes but in fact might have none. Confronted with his past transgressions, he also seems smaller, weaker, and encapsulates our failed bids at goodness.

West Is West has been criticised for not providing an unambiguous statement on modern British Muslim life given the political shifts since East Is East hit the screens, but that misses the point completely. Concepts of identity, roots and family are rarely simple for anyone, but for first and especially second-generation immigrants those questions can feel rawer and more pertinent. Instead of try-hard political commentary or oblique allegories for events yet to happen in the context of the characters, we get a timeless exploration of the human beings behind the glib chatter about the British immigrant experience.


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