Om Puri returns as George Khan, the domineering father who’s still trying to control the complicated lives of his rebellious kids in West is West, the sequel to that charming comedy East is East, about cultural clashes within a British-Asian family in 1970s Salford. The new film is set five years on, in 1976, and opens with a sympathetic look at Sajid (Aqib Khan), George’s teenage son and the youngest in the brood who’s still living at home. Bullied at school by racist classmates and patronized by teachers, the kid doesn’t have it much better at home where an hour doesn’t go by without him getting a whack from his impatient father. How do you expect a boy like that to turn out? He swears, he shoplifts, he becomes a cause of worry for his concerned parents. Determined to set him straight, George takes Sajid along to his village in Pakistan so the boy can get in touch with his roots.
Ditching the earlier film’s consistently light-hearted tone, West is West enters sentimental territory when George reunites with the family he abandoned 30 years ago in Pakistan, and expresses regret over his actions. The change of scene also allows troubled teen Sajid to put his life into perspective, aided in no small part by a local village kid and a well-meaning preacher. There’s a welcome break of comic relief when George’s British wife Ella (Linda Bassett) arrives unannounced to reclaim her family.
But the film’s best scene unquestionably is the surprisingly tender confrontation between George’s two wives Ella and Rashida (Ila Arun), who share deep truths despite being unable to follow each other’s tongue. It is here that the film’s heart lies, in this complex triangle of love and loss, in this facing up to uncomfortable truths and letting go of the past.
West is West packs fewer laughs than the earlier film but it’s engaging and thoughtful nevertheless, and benefits from strong performances across the board, especially from Om Puri who expertly reveals the vulnerability behind George’s gruff exterior.
I’m going with three out of five for West Is West. Not a bad way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.