Have you ever felt so pressured to appreciate something that however hard you try, you just can’t?
I have. I was reminded of this the other week while enduring an evening of Nana Mouskouri’s Greatest Hits while visiting my family in Rochdale.
Yes, that struggle between trying to be the person people want you to be and being the person you want to be lies at the heart of most family relationships. And it also lies at the heart of the acclaimed 1999 film East is East and its sequel West is West.
The first film, set in 1971, was the tale of Pakistani man George Khan (Om Puri) and his struggle to make his Western wife Ella (Linda Bassett) and his offspring (Jimi Mistry’s Tariq in particular) appreciate their Eastern roots.
West is West continues the tale five years on by focusing on Khan’s relationship with his youngest – 15 year old Sajid (now without that Parka hood, and played brilliantly by newcomer Aqib Khan whose resemblance to Jordan Routledge’s Sajid from the first film is uncanny).
Sick of schoolyard racist taunts, isolated and frustrated with the way his life is panning out, Sajid has lost his way. So George decides that what he needs is to come face to face with his roots. So he takes him on a trip to Pakistan to join his brother Maneer (Emil Marwa) who now lives with George’s other wife Basheera (Ila Arun) and family.
Of course, Saj is resistant and doesn’t appreciate the Pakistan that his dad shows him. But he does learn to value the country in his own way. And meanwhile, George learns a few things about himself too.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.
Now there’s no denying that West is West is a very different film to its predecessor. This one’s set in rural Pakistan while the former is very much characterized by its 1970s Salford setting.
However, that cheeky comic tone is there in all its camp, ironic and edgy glory. And this film, like East is East has its profound moments of pathos – in fact, even more so than the first movie because we get to understand what makes George the misguided tyrant he is.
There’s also an amazingly moving scene in which George’s two wives share their pain at sharing the same man, even though one only speaks in English and the other only in Punjabi.
Like East is East, West is West doesn’t attempt to offer too much deep and meaningful comment on race relations, immigration or the worrying rise of Islamophobia in today’s society. Instead, this period movie presents a universal message about discovering one’s own identity. It’s all about accepting that everyone’s different and how you can’t force people to be something they’re not.
At least, that’s how I perceived it. It made me think about my life anyway. You see, whenever I visit my hometown, like I did the other week, I sense that my family expect me to appreciate my Rochdale roots (as well as their questionable music tastes!). But, while I recognize that my time up there as a kid in the 70s and 80s was important in shaping who I am, that’s as far as it goes. Today I consider myself to be a Londoner who can’t pronounce bath with an r, and who doesn’t care too much for Nana Mouskouri.
And on that note, I leave off with a song clip from Nana’s extensive repertoire.
Personally, I struggle to appreciate anything more than the cheap camp value of this bespectacled Greek chanteuse, but my family are not the only ones who think she (and Rochdale roots too funnily enough) are great. Go and check out West is West and you’ll understand what I mean.
On general release from 25th February.