West Is West Review
It’s been over ten years since East Is East and unlike a certain recent sci-fi, you can hardly claim that its sequel has been eagerly anticipated. Nevertheless screenwriter Ayub Khan Din felt there were still more stories to tell of its central family and so we have West Is West. It’s just unfortunate that what we’ve been left with is so painfully average that you wonder why the effort had been made to carry on the story of the Khans. That’s not to say it’s a bad film per se, after all what film could be with Om Puri and Linda Bassett in leading roles, but perhaps the most damning indictment you can give it is that instead of leaving you hankering for a repeat viewing, the overwhelming urge left is to re-watch the far superior East Is East.
Set five years after the first film, West Is West centres on the youngest member of the Khan family, Sajid (Aqib Khan). Bullied at school for being Pakistani and rebelling as a result, a brush with the law leaves George (Om Puri) in no doubt that the only way to improve his son’s behaviour is to go with him to Pakistan to discover his roots. Leaving Ella (Linda Bassett) behind, George and Sajid set off to the Punjab where the former is reunited with his first wife and the daughters he left behind 30 years ago and soon realises that this won’t just be a trip of discovery for Sajid but for himself as well.
One thing very much in favour for West Is West is that the original cast have been reunited, with the exception of Sajid as the original actor (Jordan Routledge) would now have been too old to play him. In his place is first time actor Aqib Khan and he serves as a more than capable replacement showcasing great comic timing, even if his character is ultimately a bit too one-note – after his epiphany, he still seems to read from the same hymn sheet just an upside-down version from a sulky teenager not wanting to be there, to a sulky teenager not wanting to go home. This is very much an ensemble movie though and the fact that it’s the original cast help to give the emotional scenes much more of a punch as we already feel we ‘know’ them from East Is East.
It’s another cast newcomer that particularly impresses though with Ila Arun excellent as George’s first wife Basheera, putting in a performance full of restrained emotion that comes to the boil in a powerhouse scene with Ella as the two wives realise they have more in common than they know, despite neither of them speaking each others’ language. The biggest disappointment is that the film doesn’t focus enough on George’s original family; the daughters in particular don’t get much to do even though they would have provided an interesting contrast to their mother’s cultural attitude that George had a “right” to leave and take another wife. Instead the film’s focus is pretty much entirely on Sajid until the point when Ella decides to make an impromptu visit and this causes the film to meander a bit in the middle act.
East Is East wasn’t a laugh-a-minute romp, although it did have some very funny moments, so to criticise West Is West for a lack of laughs would be an error. Instead the main problem is that it doesn’t seem to know what it is, very quickly switching from culture clash japes to spiritual guidance via hard-hitting family drama and it results in a stop-start film. It also means that the middle act once Sajid meets spiritual leader Pir Naseem (Nadim Sawalha) comes across as pretty dry and dull, especially compared to the comedy of his arrival or the emotion of the climactic scenes between George and Ella. The scenes of Sajid finding himself are nice and sweet enough, particularly so when he takes it upon himself to find Maneer (Emil Marwa) a wife, resulting in them being impossible to despise but they don’t create enough excitement to stop you thinking that you’d rather be watching George instead.
Perhaps because West Is West wasn’t exactly expected, one can’t be too harsh at the prospect of spending another 100 minutes with the Khan family and there are certainly elements to be enjoyed. A brief scene with Tariq (Jimi Mistry) provides the biggest early laughs, while there is also a brilliant, albeit silly, scene involving Auntie Annie (Lesley Nicol) and a kebab (not as dirty as it sounds) and it certainly feels nice to have them back. The issue is that it rarely exceeds that feeling and is just a pretty much throwaway film, certainly worthy of one viewing but not many more. Surprisingly there’s talk of a trilogy and while you can hardly call West Is West a cash-in sequel given the waiting time between the two, it’s hard to see there being any more anticipation for a third instalment than there was for the sequel.