West is West (2011) Movie Review

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Director : Andy De Emmony
Cast : Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistri, Emil Marwa, Ila Arun, Vijay Raaz, Om Puri, Lesley Nicoll

Music Director : Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, Loy Mendonca

Music Label : Decca (UMO)

While it would be convenient to cite the foul-mouthed Sajid as the central character of West Is West, the reality of the matter is that this moving sequel to 1999?s touching comedy-drama East Is East, is as much about Sajid’s father George, AKA Jahangir Khan, as it is about the son, about the coming of age of both.

While the enduring image of the first film was that of a parka-wearing Sajid, then played by a young Jason Routledge, West Is West opens up on a teenaged Sajid, now played superbly by debutant Aqib Khan, five years after the events of ‘East’, struggling to deal with his identity as a ‘Paki’, as the bullies at his Salford school call him. This conflict is forcing him to act out in different ways, playing truant at school to go shoplift from local stores, and swear at his father, George, who’s going through a dilemma of his own, all his older children having flown the nest with Sajid being his final hope in raising a fine, Pakistani child. George’s solution to his and Sajid’s problems is to take his youngest back to his roots in Pakistan, a country that he abandoned, thirty years ago, also leaving behind his first wife Basheera and two young daughters. Of course, this is much to the consternation of his second, English wife, Ella.

In the midst, there are also tracks that deal with Maneer, George’s only obedient, Muslim son, who is more Pakistani in his ways than any of his siblings, but finds himself rejected by his homeland when he goes there to find himself a wife. It is an interesting dichotomy, that the girl the Nana Mouskouri-loving Maneer finds in the heartland of Pakistani Punjab is a similar expat raised in Rochdale.

West Is West is ultimately a film about identities, one where George finds that there maybe more of England in him than he thought, while Sajid finds that he maybe more Pakistani than he assumed. The way that the film brings the two to this realisation makes for some delightful viewing.

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The most beautiful thing about the film is the performances it revolves around. Coming out tops here is Aqib, who plays Sajid to superb effect. The young actor conveys the conflict and evolution of character to perfection, charming the audiences through and through. The same can be said of Om Puri’s Jahangir “George” Khan, who is confused throughout the film about whether he’s more George or Jahangir. Emil Marwa returns to his character Maneer after ten years and strikes a delicate balance as the Salford boy fitting into Pakistani ways.

However, the most moving performances come from the two ladies present here, Ila Arun and Linda Bassett as Basheera and Ella respectively, George’s two wives. While Bassett is superb as ever, Arun is a revelation, the melancholy in her eyes enough to drive the audience to tears. The scenes between the two, where Arun, in chaste Punjabi, speaks to Bassett about losing her husband thirty years ago, are, without a doubt, the highlight of the film.

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While he extracts topnotch performances from his actors, director Andy DeEmmony also gets it right with his cinematographer Peter Robertson, who casts a loving eye on the rural landscape that much of the action here is set in. The film also scores musically, with Rob Lane and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy crafting some superb sounds that matches sub-continental film music with the folk sounds of the Punjab.

Overall – Ultimately though, the star of West Is West has to be Ayub Khan-Din, the celebrated playwright who also penned the first film, drawing from his own experiences growing up as a child of Pakistani and English parentage in the UK of the ’70s. With a third film now in the works, one can’t wait to see where George and Sajid go next…!

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