East is East

(Damien O’Donnell, UK, 2000)


Although East is East bears a passing resemblance to several current films about urban communities, such as Beautiful People (1999) and Wonderland (2000), it belongs to an older tradition of rowdy, populist comedy. Likewise, its multiculturalist politics have an almost nostalgic simplicity.

Set in Manchester in the ’70s, the film focuses on the Khan family, presided over by George (Om Puri). The Khans run a fish and chip shop and stay close to the somewhat insular British-Indian community, with its rules, ceremonies and mating rituals. This, at least, is George’s misguided and myopic dream. Meanwhile, his kids are running around like normal teenagers, interacting with the wider world.

Even if George could control his brood, the larger context of British society would seep into his home and life anyway. The traces of Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration campaign are everywhere in this neighbourhood. And pop culture – with its alluring promise of new lifestyles and identities – is always in the air.

East is East, directed by Damien O’Donnell and adapted by Ayub Khan-Din from his play, is far less kinky or confronting than Hanif Kureishi’s variations on similar themes (My Beautiful Laundrette [1985], My Son the Fanatic [1997]). Much of it is pure Benny Hill territory, plumbing rather artless gags about toilets, food, animals, circumcision, ugly children, snogging and bonking.

At a certain point, the film veers into harsh drama, facilely picking on that handiest of modern scapegoats: the big, bad patriarch. After this, O’Donnell has a tough time steering proceedings back into optimistic, forgiving farce.

East is East is undemanding entertainment with just enough social conscience to flatter an arthouse audience.

© Adrian Martin June 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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