West Is West
Director: Andy DeEmmony
Actors: Om Puri, Ila Arun
A popular pir (learned man) at a pind (village) in the Pakistan side of Punjab makes a point about tradition. It's like taking the same road everyday, he says. But one day, if you find a snake sitting on that same road, would you not change your path?
As for immigrants and how their new worlds influence them, that's natural, inevitable, bound to happen, the pir suggests. You can't be fighting it.
Old man Jehangir (Om Puri), who calls himself George in England, should have been taking these lessons. Instead, his young son Sajid (Aqib Khan) does. His father’s brought him down from a small town Salford to see his Punjabi village -- so he can unlearn his immediate environment, return to roots he’s never known.
"Who holds Zam-Zamah holds the Punjab," an 18th century line, in Rudyard Kipling's Kim, remains the boy's only text-book relation to Pakistan. He prefers to read The Beano. The writers of this movie are no different.
The dad is also looking for a Pakistani rural bride for his elder son, whose idea of love and beauty is the gorgeous Greek singer Nana Mouskouri. The two sons are decidedly western in thought. As, it turns out, is the pir. He even seems a British actor by the accent. Even the little Pakistani village boy Sajid befriends will seem British to an Indian audience. The filmmakers have clearly not penetrated the culture of the east their British movie’s set against. That’s understandable. It would be tough to.
We’re in the mid-‘70s. This is before Zia’s Islamisation programme took over Pakistan. Though the film makes no reference to its historical time-line. Music is the food of love in these calm, peaceful, dusty countrysides.
Jehangir has a family issue to deal with. He’s caught between what was once his home (his 'native place'), and what he calls home now (as a fish-and-chip seller in Britain). In between are also two women -- one he left behind for a better life (Ila Arun; astoundingly real), who gave him two daughters; the other, he married for life (Linda Bassett), who gave him two sons. Symmetry is conveniently complete.
There is guilt, and you sense it in the lead actor Om Puri’s instructive, stunning performance. He’s been a good man, he feels still, though that should be in the judgment of others, not his own. As an audience, it’s difficult to figure, where he stands, why he left, or why he could still leave.
Damien O’Donnel’s East Is East (1999) was a reasonably accurate political film that told us of a time that roughly birthed the religiously fanatic Asian youth, a 'Londonstan', we confusingly read and hear about now.
Its belated sequel unfortunately is neither persuasively personal in its account, nor engagingly political for what it could reveal. What a waste then.