By and large, sequels have never managed to outdo leave alone even match up to their predecessors (Godfather II of course being the big, big exception). Perhaps the one major factor for this is that the second instalment (always) has to carry the burden of the ‘winning formula’ of the first to begin with and thus is already bound by parameters and ‘items’ even before the story is developed. West Is West, made a good 11 years later after the highly acclaimed East Is East (1999), follows the sequel trend faithfully and while it emerges as an interesting enough watch with sporadic moments of some genuinely good writing, it fails to live up to standards set by the first film. Simply put, East Is East is a hard act to follow and West is West only proves this.
The film, directed by Andy De Emmony and exploring the dynamics of cultural identity, when you live in a land different from the one you grew up in, is mostly based in Pakistan though shot in India doubling for Pakistan. George (nee Jehangir) brings his unruly and rebellious youngest son, Sajid, ‘home’ for a holiday for him to discover his roots. What follows, however, is a superficial, predictable drama that is naively simplistic with enough stereotypes and popular (mis) conceptions about the ‘East’ populating the film. So of course, the ‘British’ family is thrown into rural Pakistan where buffaloes poke their heads into your rut khut taxi, there is no electricity and you have to shit out in the open fields, there is a mystical pir who reforms the boy, there… oh well, you get the idea.
The other big problem with the film is trying to figure out whose story is it really wants to tell. Though supposed to be Sajid’s self discovery, it is one for George as well who feels guilty as he sees the pitiful conditions of his first family, whom he abandoned 30 years earlier. In trying to give enough screen time to both, neither track flows satisfactorily enough with abrupt changes in the characters rather than a gradual transformation. Leave alone the main tracks, even the smaller subplots like Maneer’s romance are abrupt and used just to round off the film, never being allowed to develop properly. The track with the pir opening up Sajid and transforming him is extremely weak and certain sequences like Sajid exploring the temple ruins simply don’t work.
Rather than following a more layered and cinematic script, the film plays it much too simplistic – conveniently keeping religious and political issues totally out while all the dynamics between the characters are resolved by simply giving them each that one big scene and that’s really it. But it has to be said here that these key scenes are particularly well written and when performed nicely by the actors (the sequence between the two women where they don’t understand and yet understand each other), they do take the film up a notch or two. And though a standalone film and yet a sequel (hence comparisons are inevitable), West Is West lacks the humour even in the most serious of situations that East Is East abounded in – making a point and yet being able to laugh at itself . Still, there are some nice moments here as well – the first meeting of Maneer and his bride-to-be, where he is totally tongue tied even as she stands there with 3 pots on her head, for one or Sajid and his friend looking for the ‘bride’ from the rooftops and unable to make her out as all the woman carrying pots with dupattas covering their heads look similar!
It is really the acting, particularly that of the original cast reprising their roles, that really make the film watchable. They take off effortlessly from where they left off 11 years ago – even if they look much more older as this film is set just 5 years after the first. In fact, Om Puri creates a far more sympathetic and three dimensional character here as compared to the one-dimensional, chauvinistic hypocrite of the first film and finally getting a decent part after ages, reaffirms that he is one of the finest actors around. Linda Basset, Lesley Nicol, Emil Marwa are all rock solid while Aqib Khan makes a great debut playing the troubled Sajid. Barring the first wife, Basheera (a well written character by Ayub Khan Din but overplayed by Ila Arun), the other members of George’s first family are sketchily developed thus rendering much of his equation with them rather weak. Neither can the performers do anything with the wafer thin characterisations they are saddled with. Incidentally, barring Jimi Mistry’s cameo, there is no mention of any of the other Khan siblings and where they might be. Conveniently, they’ve all moved out of George’s tyranical home and Sajid remains the lone child left with him and Ella.
The technicalities too are very so-so. Overall, West Is West is watchable enough and that too only if you are able to consider it as a standalone film. However, lovers of East Is East are bound to be disappointed with it and rightly so.
English, Comedy, Drama, Color