Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Five, Part One – ‘East is East’ (1999)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. The conversations often take unexpected turns into serious subjects and silly suppositions, but ultimately they always pull it back to the movies in question.

Week five is here, and both men have chosen British films released in 1999. Pretty similar choices then, right? Wrong!

You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

You can also access the lists so far by clicking here for Fred’s and here for Yasser’s.

Fred: We’ll get straight to it. This week I watched ‘East is East‘. Is this a choice that’s close to your heart?

Yasser: Aye, it really is.

FS: Why?

YA: It may take place in the early ’70s, but it illustrates a lot of issues in the communities of Britain.It’s something I can relate to because I find many things that transpire throughout to be experiences that I’ve witnessed and/or went through myself.

‘East is East’
1999 – UK
Director: Damien O’Donnell
Starring: Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistry, Archie Panjabi, Jordan Routledge

YA: You first saw this when you lived in an area that lacked South Indian Asians, am I correct?

FS: Yes, that’s right. I was 17, living in Chester where it’s pretty white and middle class. I went to the cinema to see it. The trailer had hinted at it being a fairly broad comedy, like a primetime BBC1 or ITV sitcom.

YA: Many of the elements are portrayed in a comedic fashion. When you first saw it, Fred, what were your thoughts?

FS: I remember being disappointed. Back then, I think I enjoyed the comedy but I didn’t like the serious plot around which the comedy was woven. I felt the trailer had sold me a lie because some sections are quite brutal.

YA: You were absolutely right. Many of my friends think it’s a fantastic comedy, but I believe it to be a drama with funny moments in it. Did it leave any sort fo mark on you when you were 17?

FS: I can honestly say it left no mark on me what-so-ever. I think it’s quite a forgettable movie.

YA: Go on…

FS: When I saw it on the list I thought ‘I’ve seen that’ but I couldn’t remember anything about it except the rubber vagina.

YA: (laughs) And since moving to a more multi-cultural region, how did you find it on seeing it again?

FS: 2012 Fred has swapped completely. Watching it again, it was the serious parts I liked, and I thought the comedy ruined it.

YA: Oh my! Were there any parts in particular?

FS: It takes away from the story line – Nazir’s (Ian Aspinall) transformation, Sajid (Jordan Routledge) pissing in the bucket, the two white girls (Emma Rydal and Ruth Jones) reaction to everything…

FS: Emma Rydal in particular is an awful actress.

YA: Forgettable at best.

FS: Om Puri was pretty good. He’s the best person in it.

YA: I agree that Puri’s ‘George’ Khan is the best performance. The majority of the remaining cast were good, given the dimensions of their characters.

FS: The kids – they were all good. Not a great actor amongst them, but they did their job. Archie Panjabi was the best, for me.

YA: Did it make any other impression on you second time around? What else did you like and dislike?

FS: I think it’s a nice little movie, but I doubt it’s made any more of an impression on me. I reckon if you asked me to relay the details of the plot in a year’s time I would struggle.

YA: We have both chose movies this week that we can individually relate to. With your choice for me, you were already familiar with Gilbert & Sullivan from picking it up from your Dad. It was part of your culture that you have developed from your own experiences.

FS: Yes, that is true.

YA: When I watch ‘East is East’, I see a movie about things I have seen and have been through. Culture clashes, domineering husband-parent figures that try to install their principles by dressing them up as religious beliefs. I see the way Pakistani culture is sometimes translated as religion. It still happens now.

FS: Yeah, for sure.

YA: I personally think that because  kids are getting confused by the culture clashes and the way their ethnic traditions clash with their religion, that a lot of the youth have trouble within themselves and try to be something they are not.

FS: It was a successful film at the box-office, but I wonder if it’s reputation is highest amongst Anglo-Asians.

YA: (laughs) I’ve gone off on a tangent.

FS: It’s all good. I want to understand why the film speaks to you and I assumed that familiarity with the situations therein would be part of it.

YA: Yeah absolutely. It came out in the era of ‘Goodness Gracious Me‘ and since then I believe the Asian communities (that are born and bred in Britain) are more accepted.

FS: Yeah, but there is still an identity struggle. Who to support in the cricket for instance?

YA: (laughs) Watch football instead. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh never get in to a cup final.

FS: (laughs) I don’t get why George was so traditional, but married an English woman.

YA: He’s shown to be ignorant of British culture. He tries to bring Pakistan into Salford, even though his business is a fish and chip shop and his house is run by and English wife/ mother.

FS: I guess he becomes more traditional in his views the longer he lives in England. He sees his children rebel and become ‘westernised’.

YA: Yeah and he finds it difficult not being accepted amongst his Pakistani peers because of his marriage and because his kids wanted to be more in tune with their society instead of their ethnic background.

FS: George is a hypocrite. He’s happy to embrace the elements of British life that suit him, as his wife points out, with serious consequences.

YA: Also, when he refers to Islam as a special community that sees no race as superior, but then he immediately says to Jimi Mistry that’s why he must marry a Pakistani. Arrrrrrrr! What the fuck? (laughs)

FS: Yeah. Om Puri is really good, actually, when I think about it. Totally convincing. He contradicts himself without so much as a flicker. it’s quite a subtle moment. It’s a testament to Om Puri that I felt sorry for him at the end, despite his brutality towards his wife and children.

YA: So, can you summarise and rate ‘East is East’, please?

FS: I found it quite underwhelming. Like ‘The Queen‘, it’s a movie that should have been a TV series or a TV movie. If it had been a six-part comedy-drama, like ‘The Royle Family‘, I’d have enjoyed it more. There was not enough talent among the actors, with Emma Rydal and Ruth Jones being particularly poor. There are some touching, thought-provoking, and shocking moments, and one excellent central performance. However, all that is degraded by bad jokes and over-the-top set piece gags. 5/10.

YA: Ouch! It helped grow the British film industry.

FS: I know. It was part of that wave of successful British social comedies like ‘Brassed Off‘ and ‘The Full Monty‘.

YA:Trainspotting‘ too. ‘East is East’ and ‘Trainspotting’ helped Film4 productions, and look at them now. ‘The Iron Lady‘, ‘127 Hours‘…

FS: Also, without ‘East is East’ there would probabaly have been no ‘Bend it Like Beckham‘, and no ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ would have meant no Keira Knightly… actually, that would be a good thing.

Look out for part two of this week’s blog later this week.


5 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Five, Part One – ‘East is East’ (1999)

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