East Is East

A 1971-set story about a Pakistani immigrant and his white British wife, raising 7 children in a poor suburb of Manchester, based on screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din's semi-autobiographical play. Stressed father George Khan (legendary Indian actor Om Puri) can't deal with the fact that his kids are not growing up to be good traditional Pakistanis (uh, perhaps it's because they're half-English and born in England?), so he tries to force them all into thinking his way, becoming more and more abusive as the film goes on. But the film never explains why he let his kids grow up to be fairly free-thinking individuals, only to suddenly change course and tighten the clamps of traditional Pakistani values on the poor souls. As a result, it's hard to see George as anything other than a creep, and equally hard to buy his family letting him beat up whomever he wants. But that may just be my American opinion; apparently this was an enormous hit in class-conscious Britain. I had the same reaction to the thuggish father in New Zealand's top film, Once Were Warriors, and many disagreed.

Kudos to the cast, though. They are excellent, especially the seven actors hired to play the Khan "children" (most of whom are over 18). They relate to each other remarkably like real siblings, and all their distinct personalities are beautifully etched. The film also paints an enlightening picture of the large Pakistani population in the UK, and the racism they've had to deal with. But a big thumbs down to what really wrecks the film: a gushy, mushy, overly manipulative musical score. East Is East may have been more effective as a stage play. One final note: though it has a few moments of hilarity, this serious drama about domestic violence is being marketed as a wacky comedy. Don't be fooled!