Imagine growing up in Manchester in the swinging ’70s. It’s the era of disco, bellbottoms and women’s lib. You’re young and you’ve got the whole world ahead of you. There’s only one roadblock: your overbearing father.
East is East is Ayub Khan-Din’s hilarious debut about a mixed-race family. The Khan family features seven kids, a traditional Pakistani father and a British mother who after 25 years of marriage debates whether she should stand by her man or defy him for her children’s sake.
The film is like a breath of fresh air from the stale onslaught of Bollywood (mainstream Bombay) films that come out every year. In East is East, no one breaks into song and dance or changes costumes every minute. It is one of the rare films about the double lives the children of South Asian immigrants lead.
The children in East is East juggle soccer practice and Arabic classes. They alter their wardrobe between miniskirts and traditional saris (wrap-around garments). They violate Islamic law and eat bacon and sausage when daddy isn’t home. They sneak off to nightclubs when the rest of the family sleeps. Saleem, the only Khan ever to go to college, fools his father into believing he’s attending engineering school when he’s really studying art. Immigrant children like the ones portrayed in East is East have to deal with not only the generation gap between all teenagers and parents, but also a cultural gap.
Khan-Din’s screenplay comes from his own upbringing. “My father’s generation was an immigrant one,” he said. “They had to fit into an alien environment, so he kept holding up this thing in front of us and saying ‘this is what you should be,’ but of course, we weren’t that at all.”
The story starts with the wedding of the eldest son Nazir who is trembling in fear under his wedding tinsel, for the bride he is about to marry is a stranger to him. He refuses his wedding laddu (ritual dessert) — “I can’t do this, dad.” — and runs away. The family is shocked. Ashamed and furious, the father George considers his son dead from then on.
George, played by Bollywood veteran Om Puri, questions the upbringing of his children and quickly decides to arrange marriages for his two next-oldest sons as a way of gripping on to the culture that he broke loose from himself decades ago when he left Pakistan and married a British woman.
Naturally, his sons Tariq and Abdul rebel against their father. Their mother Ella, after 25 years of abiding her husband’s ways, finally decides to put her foot down. Hilarious, topsy-turvy episodes follow when the Shah family shows up with less-than-beautiful daughters to marry the Khan sons.
If you put videotapes of Austin Powers and Pakeezah (a Bollywood film) in a blender, East is East is what would come out. It is a must-see for everyone in the South Asian and Muslim communities and others who always wanted to learn more about them.
– A (even though I don’t believe in grades)