Where the twain meet

Where the twain meet

social comedy A still from ‘West Is West’

East is East, the English crossover film, successfully portrayed the dilemma UK-born-and-bred children of a Pakistani immigrant chip shop owner in Salford, England, face when their tyrannical father thrusts his beliefs and values on them. The movie was a runaway hit though it raised many uncomfortable questions about cultural differences and the difficulties of assimilation in the minds of viewers.

West is West, the long-delayed sequel, takes the story forward with George Khan deciding to make a good Pakistani out of Sajid and packing him off to his first wife in Pakistan, the woman he had abandoned almost 30 years ago. Thus begins the journey, not just for Sajid, but also for George Khan who will now come face to face with the consequences of the decision he made 30 years ago — to cross the shores and make a fortune, at the cost of his family’s happiness.

But, according to its screenwriter, Ayub Khan-Din, who has adapted his autobiographical stage play to film, West is West happened mostly out of popular demand. Following the success of East is East, when people kept asking him whether a sequel would follow, he was undecided. “I was reluctant to jump on the coat tails of East is East with a rehash of what had gone on in that film.  Most of the sequels I’ve seen are bad attempts to remake the original in both humour and style. For me, any sequel I wrote had to be a stand alone film. A film that moved us on from the events in East is East and took the characters and the audience on another journey of discovery.

So, I took my time and came up with West is West as the audience wanted to know about my father’s life in Pakistan and his family there. Though I never got on well with my father’s first wife and my half siblings, they have stayed with me and, over the years, their story came to haunt me, forcing me to pen the sequel,” shares Khan-Din, on whose life Sajid, the main character of West is West, is based on.

However, for Leslee Udwin, the producer of the film, West is West was a natural progression from East is East. A film that concludes on an open-ended note has to continue, she feels. This multi-award-winning producer who tasted success with her very first feature film, East is East, had no second thoughts when it came to producing West is West.

“This movie is not just about a Pakistani immigrant struggling to touch base with his roots through his children. In fact, it is the story of every immigrant who has landed himself in a foreign land, in search of fame and fortune. I, being an Israeli Jewish, could relate to the characters in the film quite naturally, making me realise the universality of the issue being dealt with,” says Leslee, who had dabbled in television production before stumbling upon the script of East is East.

Though the film traces George Khan’s journey back to his home town in Pakistan, the film was shot entirely in Chandigarh, Punjab, as shooting in Pakistan was percieved to be unsafe. Having spent three months in Chandigarh for the shoot, Leslee is all praise for the hospitality of Indians in general and that of Punjabis in particular.
“Moreover, there does not seem to be much of a difference between the Punjab in India and the Punjab in Pakistan, lending the movie its ‘Asian’ feel,” adds Khan-Din.

A thought seconded by veteran actor Om Puri, who essays the role of George Khan with his characteristic aplomb. Terming the experience of starring in West is West as “wonderful” for the range of emotions it evokes in the audience, he says, “The film is all about the guilt and embarrassment of George Khan. It is time for him to introspect; to wonder whether the path he chose to get closer to his roots is right. However, the George Khan you encounter here is not as aggressive as in East is East. He
has mellowed down with age and experience.”

Terming the film as a social comedy, Om Puri says West is West is sure to strike the right chords with the audience, just as East is East did. “In some ways, this film was more challenging than the original as George Khan has to now face his first wife, a woman who has managed on her own for the past 30 years,” he reveals.

Yes, the woman who has raised her daughters single handedly, without any kind of support from her husband. A woman of strong sensibilities, a woman of substance. When it came to zeroing in on the ideal actor to portray such a powerful role, the natural choice was Ila Arun, the singer-actress whose electrifying performance in Jodhaa Akbar had impressed the movie makers to no end.

Ila Arun, on her part, considers herself lucky to have been a part of this film. “Apart from the fact that this is my first international film, it is also a film in which I am the voice of the voiceless, speaking for the many women whose husbands abandon them to go abroad. It is a socially-relevant film that deals with an issue most people can relate to. A challenging role by any standard,” she says.

According to her, the high point of West is West was starring opposite an actor of Om Puri’s stature. However, the only problem she had was with mouthing Punjabi dialogues. “I had a Punjabi tutor from Pakistan to teach me Punjabi,” she says.

‘Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet...’ says Kipling. What does Khan-Din have to say about this?

“I’d hate to say ‘Never the twain shall meet’,” he says, even as he admits autobiographical pieces are always cathartic as one tends to lay a lot of ghosts.  “I felt a particular satisfaction telling the story of my father’s first wife. Though there was never a time we spoke on a close personal level... with a language and a lifetime separating us... I think I was able to tell a little of her story, and through her, the story of many of the women who are left behind by their husbands,” says Khan-Din.

Is he planning on a trilogy? “Only time will tell,” he says, and there lies the pitch.

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