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East is East (1999)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of East is East (1999)
DirectorDamien O'Donnell
Production CompanyAssassin Films
ProducerLeslee Udwin
Written byAyub Khan-Din
Director of PhotographyBrian Tufano
EditorMichael Parker
ComposerDeborah Mollison

Om Puri (George Khan); Linda Bassett (Ella Khan); Jordan Routledge (Sajid Khan); Archie Panjabi (Meenah Khan); Emil Marwa (Maneer Khan)

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Salford, 1971: a proud Pakistani chip shop owner lives with his white wife and seven children in a terraced house. The children rebel against his strict approach and his insistence that they are brought up as Muslims and submit to traditional arranged marriages.

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Based on a semi-autobiographical play by Ayub Khan Din, East is East (d. Damian O'Donnell, 1999) was a surprise international smash hit, nominated for six BAFTAS and winning the Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film.

O'Donnell turns Rudyard Kipling's adage, "East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet" cleverly on its head, in a hilarious and moving portrayal of the culture clash between a traditionalist Pakistani father George (Om Puri) and his English wife and seven westernised children.

This clash is captured in the first scene: the Khan kids join a Catholic ceremony, marching down the back-to-back terraced streets of Salford, sporting banners, crucifixes and wreathes. When their father unexpectedly returns early from mosque, their mother, Ella (Linda Bassett) goes to warn them. As Ella and George watch the rest of the march, the kids sneak down the alleyways and rejoin the head of the procession.

The kids are certain of their identity as 'English' and defy George's determination to raise them as Muslim-Pakistanis: Meenah (Archie Panjabi) prefers playing football in the street to a demure life in a sari; Saleem (Chris Bisson) pretends to study engineering (a Pakistani father's dream vocation for his son), but is really at art school; Tariq (Jimi Mistry) calls himself Tony, kisses English girls and gets drunk; Sajid (Jordan Routledge) is yet to be circumcised and plays with the grandson of a racist, Enoch Powell-supporting neighbour; and Nazir (Ian Aspinall) abandons his arranged marriage at the last minute to become a gay hairdresser in Eccles.

But the cultural conflict is greatest in George himself, who insists his sons marry Pakistani girls. His children see him as a hypocrite as well as a despot because he left his first wife in Pakistan, came to England to make his fortune and married an English woman (Tariq acutely asks, "If English women are so bad, why did you marry my mum?"). George studiously follows the India-Pakistan war on the radio in his chip shop, 'George's English Chippy', his broken English is punctuated by English swearwords, and having forgotten to circumcise Sajid, he buys him a watch in Arabic to mollify him. George's last words in the film reprise his recurring desire for 'half a cup' of tea.

Shalini Chanda

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Video Clips
1. The ceremony (3:45)
2. Arranged marriages (3:41)
3. At the hairdresser (2:35)
Production stills
Ae Fond Kiss (2004)
Mistry, Jimi (1973-)
Puri, Om (1950-)
Tufano, Brian (1939-)
Channel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFour
Asian-British Cinema
Channel 4 and Film