East is East is a 1999 film about an interracial family set in Salford, England, in 1971. Some two decades before the start of the film, George Khan, played by Om Puri moved to England seeking better prospects and married an Englishwoman, Ella, played by Linda Bassett, who had a part in Kinky Boots, an English film I liked a lot. This movie is about Khan’s relationship with his family now that his seven children are growing up.

The movie begins with the oldest son’s marriage, a ceremony that goes awry when the groom refuses to go through with it and runs out of the building. As this comedy’s plot unfolds, we learn that George is attempting to force his family into observing increasingly strict Muslim religious practices. Most of the children resist.

 

This picture of six of the Khan children and two of their girlfriends says it all: these children are British, not Pakistani. They wear English clothing, refuse to learn Urdu or study the Koran, and date English girls rather than Pakistani ones.

At the heart of this movie is George’s hypocrisy: he expects his sons to marry according to Islamic traditions, which include arranged marriages with women the sons have never met, despite the fact that he left Pakistan and found love with an Englishwoman. Members of the Anglo-Pakistani community now judge him for his family’s westernization, and he increasingly attempts to force them to adopt the traditions that they find foreign and antiquated.

At this point, I wish I could say that hilarity ensues — this is a comedy after all — but unfortunately it doesn’t. As George’s efforts to Easternize his family become increasingly futile, they simultaneously become more violent. His physical abuse of his wife, sons, and daughter is simply not funny. The film tries to keep a lighthearted tone through physical humor and the children’s constant efforts to escape their father’s control, but these attempts pale in comparison to the film’s very serious and unfunny depiction of George beating his wife and sons. When these characters show up for a meeting with their sons’ prospective brides’ family with cuts, bruises, and a black eye, it severely undercuts the scene’s humor.

Predictably, one of the sons turns out to be gay, though not the one that I originally thought looked gay. Another son, played by Jimi Mistry, who also starred in Touch of Pink, is a womanizer who seems to have internalized his father’s misogynist attitudes toward and treatment of women. The son who is most committed to fundamentalist Islam is given short shrift in the film. The daughter spends most of her time tormenting her only younger brother, who is circumcised rather late in life when his father discovers that the operation had not been performed when the son was born — it seems to say a lot about George’s parental involvement in his children’s lives that he didn’t know that his son is uncircumcised. Not surprisingly, this procedure doesn’t please the son one bit. One son is an artist, but his artwork, which plays a key role late in the film, turns out to be trite and little more than a sight gag. It’s all very disappointing.

I generally like movies about (to some degree) Pakistani or Indian immigrants (not to suggest that the two are interchangeable or the same in any way) in England: Touch of Pink, My Beautiful Laundrette, or Bend It Like Beckham, for example. But this movie just doesn’t work. The last third of the film is simply unpleasant to watch, not a good thing for a comedy to be. I have to say that, by the end, I hated this film. The actors are all quite good, but the plot just doesn’t work for a comedy. This means that East Is East has the dubious honor of being the first movie I’ve blogged about that I hated. I guess there had to be a first!

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