Paki pack breaks from the mold

Movie: East is East

East is East
Length: 1 hour. 3 minutes
Studio: Miramax Pictures
Website: http://www.eastiseastmovie.com/
Release Date: 2000-05-26
Cast: Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jordan Routledge, Archie Panjabi, Emil Warwa
Director: Damien O'Donnell
Screenwriter: Ayub Khan-Din
Music Score: Deborah Mollison
WorkNameSort: East is East
Our Rating: 4.00

"East Is East," the bright, hilariously coarse comedy that gained plaudits at Cannes and turned into a major hit in Britain, is a movie that relies heavily upon classic conflicts, some more serious than others.

Religion is the major focus of the discord that besets the family of George Khan, a Pakistani immigrant living in the England of the early 1970s with his British wife and seven children. As brought to life in a beautiful, artfully measured performance by veteran Indian actor Om Puri ("My Son the Fanatic"), Khan is making a desperate attempt to keep his six boys and one daughter close to the faith of his forefathers.

But Khan's good intentions are constantly misunderstood and his carefully laid plans foiled. To begin with, his oldest son, Nazir (Ian Aspinall), is about to be paired with a beautiful Pakistani girl in an arranged marriage. In the attractive sequence that opens the film, the elaborate ceremony is nearing completion when Nazir suddenly stands up, shouts, "I can't do this, Dad!" and bolts from the lavishly decorated hall.

Generational conflict, that old bugaboo, is another source of strife for Khan and -- to a lesser degree -- Ella (Linda Bassett), his patient, long-suffering wife and his partner in a neighborhood fish-and-chips business. And then there are the lures of pop music and the sexual revolution, both of which exert a strong influence on the couple's club-hopping hipster of a son, Tariq (Jimi Mistry). Tariq is secretly dating the perky blond daughter of a neighbor who has fallen under the spell of anti-immigration leader Enoch Powell.

The cramped Khan home is a constant beehive of activity, with the kids attempting to do their own thing while simultaneously making it appear as if they're toeing the line with Pop. The family is so large that the characters sometimes come off as little more than adjectives. In addition to the cute Tariq and the shy Abdul (Raji James), various siblings can be described as "the artistic one," "the religious one" and "the tomboy." "The weird one" is the youngest child, Sajid (Jordan Routledge), who remains uncircumcised and likewise refuses to remove his fur-trimmed parka.

Khan, who spends an inordinate amount of his time stomping around the house, bellowing orders and issuing ultimatums, comes up with a plan he feels is sure to compensate for the humiliation of Nazir's actions and put everything right in his world: He'll marry Tariq and Abdul off to a pair of pure-blood Pakistani sisters, whose buck-toothed, goofy looks account for a good portion of the film's humor.

The unfolding conflicts -- religious, cultural, generational -- come to a head during the latter portion of the movie, and first-time director Damien O'Donnell orchestrates the mostly comic events with the greatest of ease. There's a strange upheaval in the tone of the picture, though, when the grumpy Khan's frustrations lead to an outburst of violence. It's a harsh, entirely unexpected moment, and one that lends a rather sour taste to an otherwise sweet and moving film.

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