“West is West” contains quite a lot of different plots. Some of these are effective and some get thrown away. It’s the sequel to 1999’s “East is East”. The early scenes are about being bullied, at home and at school. Robert Pugh plays a teacher to great effect.
For a few minutes, the movie becomes a series of vignettes on marriage between a Pakistani man and a Salford woman and the effects on the children of growing up in this marriage. So far, so very much like “East”.
Setting the new film in the mid 1970s takes the story of the chip shop owners a few years ahead in time. Son Sajid (newcomer Aqib Khan) is struggling and dad (played by Om Puri) decides to take his son back to Pakistan, for a holiday. It couldn’t be set today as school authorities would probably object to a pupil disappearing for a month or more.
In Pakistan, this becomes a different film entirely and that gives the whole a disjointed quality, a little like those Robert Altman movies in which you saw the point of view of different characters. Those movies didn’t always work as coherent wholes, either.
It’s enjoyable and moves along quickly. Yet the episodic feel limits the power of all but a few quite affecting scenes. The friendship between Sajid and Zaid (Raj Bansali) is beautifully described. The confrontations between the first (Ila Arun) and the second (Linda Bassett) Mrs Khans are breathtaking and deep. The teacher in Pakistan, played by Nadim Sawalha, has some of the best lines. Lesley Nicol as Auntie Annie is a hoot.
Is this a comedy? Is it a drama? In hedging its bets, neither form is fully satisfied. Jimi Mistry is back, in a very funny short scene. Emil Marwa reprises his role as Maneer Khan, obsessed with Nana Mouskouri and searching for a wife in Pakistan.
The bottom line here is that George (Puri) comes to realise a great deal about himself as he returns to the life he left behind and sees the effects of his decisions on both his families.
Yet it’s the indecision about whether “West” wishes to focus on father or son that weakens the picture. Andy DeEmmony’s direction makes the most of Ayub Khan-Din’s script, but you are left with a feeling that it’s choppy and bitty and does not achieve the greatness that it comes close to.
Om Puri and young Aqib Khan are great actors and elevate their scenes with wonderful facial expressions. The anguish of age and of youth are both deftly described.
The music and dance scenes are terrific. Many of the family relationships feel real and fully-formed. I look forward to a third film. At the current pace, that should be along in about 12 years. Maybe, like Harry Potter, whoever is directing will break it into Part One and Part Two so that the storylines feel more complete, rather than cut short.
The audience at Stratford Picturehouse seemed to enjoy it, although lots of playing on mobile phones tends to suggest the younger watchers got bored a few times. It seemed to provoke quite a lot of chattering about how realistic its portrayal of mixed marriages is. Do these people know that it’s possible to have these conversations after the movie, rather than during it?