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'East Is East' Is Really Everywhere

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2000


    'East Is East' Jimi Mistry rebels against his father in "East Is East." (Miramax)
"East Is East," an edgy, irreverent, thoroughly winning comedy that wowed Cannes and took Britain by storm, follows a stubborn Pakistani emigre's overbearing attempts to bridge the gap between him and his rebellious half-British children. George Khan (Om Puri) takes the mutiny personally, though he's hardly the first parent to contend with the battle between the generations. The clash is so commonplace, in fact, that it surely accounts for much of the movie's universal appeal.

This visually persuasive, breezily paced story takes place in England's northern industrial suburbs in the '70s, a period defined by the youthful energy that fills the Khans' cramped, contentious household. The seven kids share beds and ruses to get around their father's old-fashioned rules. The harder he pushes, the more defiant his brood becomes.

George's campaign becomes desperate when his eldest son (Ian Aspinall) runs away in the middle of an arranged wedding ceremony and George declares him officially dead. To regain his standing within the large Pakistani community, he arranges matches for his handsome second and third sons with the daughters of a wealthy family from a neighboring suburb.

Their brides-to-be are a pair of cartoonishly ugly sisters, bucktoothed, four-eyed and barely able to fit into their commodious saris. And a meeting between the two families pokes fun at the wealthy Pakistani family, which prides itself on being purebred. "My kids may be half-breeds, but they're not inbred like yours," hisses Ella Khan (Linda Bassett), George's adoring British wife.

Ella allows her husband to rule the roost, Pakistani-style--at least she lets him think he does--while behind his back, she abets and encourages her children's urge to choose who they will be. But as George grows more despotic, she begins to question the secrecy of her methods--and ultimately provokes an ugly showdown that forces George to confront his demons.

Ayub Khan-Din, who adapted his semi-autobiographical play for the screen, created Ella and George in his parents' image. And the interaction between adults and kids was inspired by the bedlam he remembers from his boyhood. In many ways, the story is about coming of age no matter how old or young you are.

Puri, a legendary Indian actor, can't quite turn George into Dr. Huxtable, but he does make it possible to understand the character's shame, confusion and vulnerability. Bassett, who created the role onstage, anchors the charming, colorful cast of fresh young faces.

Damien O'Donnell, a first-time director with an eye for unexpected sight gags, springs all manner of surprises on jaded moviegoers who may think they're certain they know what's coming next. While he relies rather heavily on chamber pot jokes--the Khans don't have indoor toilets--there are comic moments as original as any on film.

EAST IS EAST (96 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle) is rated R for sexual situations, graphic depictions of genitalia, language and violence.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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