East is East

Study Guide to East is East from Film Education

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eastiseast

Review courtesy of Kamera.co.uk

The clash between British and Asian cultural values not only underpins East is East, a bittersweet northern comedy, it drives every scene from the off. In the opening sequence, a Christian parade replete with Virgin Mary icons winds its way down a tight, terraced Manchester street. In its midst are six Anglo-Asian kids: the Khan family. As their English mother looks on, their Pakistani chip-shop owning dad, George (Om Puri), makes his way back from the mosque. The news of his arrival sparks a mini-stampede and his children sharply disperse, rather than face his wrath.George (played sympathetically by Om Puri) is a character both intransigent and violent, the root of the family conflict. And within this conflict each member of the Khan family occupies a different position along the cultural fault line: Nazir the eldest is gay and, after fleeing an arranged marriage, is disowned by his father; Abdul, the second eldest, is caught in the family crossfire; Tariq is a handsome, party-loving rebel who rejects his Asian heritage, calling himself Tony; Maneer is a religious Muslim who believes that his family will never be regarded as properly ‘English’; Saleem is an art student who pretends to be studying engineering to appease his family; Meenah, the only daughter, is a loud tomboy who favours kicking a ball to wearing a sari; and finally, the permanently parka-clad Sajid (played movingly by 12-year-old Jordan Routledge), is an observer of the unfolding family drama.

Although addressing serious social issues, East is East is neither heavy-handed nor formulaic. Set with minutely observed period detail in 1971, the backdrop, including the India-Pakistan war over Kashmir and incendiary Enoch Powell immigration speeches, has depressing current relevance. So do – as a spate of current news stories testify – the pressures of ‘izzat’ (family honour) and ‘sharam’ (personal honour) that bear down on the Khan children. While challenging oppressive elements of traditional Pakistani culture, East is East, initially a successful West End play, nevertheless celebrates Britain’s cultural diversity. As such, it’s a timely antidote – and a good deal funnier – than the ethnically-cleansed pap that is Notting Hill.

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