East Is East (1999): Where exactly are you from?

"I'll never let the colour of your Dad come between us."

With the festive season just passed, many of you out there will have had more than enough of 'family quality time'. It's a funny thing that; the first moment you see your mum and dad after such a long period away from them. The happiness and sense of stability that washes over you as you chuck yourself onto the large squishy sofa in front of the TV, and sip on the cup of tea your ma just passed you, your old bed in your old room ready made for you, the heating turned on. I wonder if that's something that goes away with age? As yet for me, that's not been the case.

Cut to...maybe three days later...at a push. That golden glow starts to wash off, your name seems to have become your mum's favourite thing to incessantly shout upstairs, often at 7:00 am because she hasn't quite got the memo that you're all meant to be on holiday. Everyone's starting to get a lot snappier with each other, and December the 27th can't come fast enough. Most families I know of go through this 'I LOVE YOU/I HATE YOU' dichotomy every time they're brought back together. And these same families also have their ultimate fallback; the thing that brings them all back together when the likelihood of murder has become too strong a possibility. For some it's a certain day trip, a film, a good long board game (although never Monopoly, nothing good ever comes from Monopoly). 

For my family, we always turn to East is East, a 1999 British film that cast a funny and revealing light on multi-cultural England in the 1970's. For some reason this movie, with its brilliant mix of comedy and tragedy, hit a note within our household. I can remember the first time we watched it together, me and my brother taking our cues from mum and dad and how much they howled with laughter at parts. 

The story of the Khan family, Pakistani father George (Om Puri) and English mother Ella (Linda Bassett) raising a large family of Anglophile kids who have fallen in love with modern pop music and fashion, is one poignant to any first generation kids of immigrants. Clashing heads with a parent who sees any slight diversion from their own strict upbringing as a leniency you should thank god for every day, can be exhausting and infuriating. No matter what era you're talking of, things are always going to be getting lost in translation between the two generations, and East is East catches those moments with beautiful hilarity. The siblings chomping down on bacon and sausage whilst their muslim father is out of the house, the son in love with the daughter of an Enoch Powell loving neighbour, the attempted arranged marriages. All are written with such wit and truth to bring tears of laughter to anyones eyes. 

But, just like reality, East is East shows that sometimes the adjustment from one culture to another can be brutal and rough. There are scenes of true horror in East is East, that highlight the extraordinary acting talents of Puri and Bassett. The violence and anger that comes out of George Khan shows a man unable to accept himself, a man with a wife in Pakistan, and another in England; one who was and still seems to be a love match. His anglicised name and interracial marriage show a  man who in his younger years seemed less obsessed with his roots and his religion, in fact very similar to his own son Tariq; the most rebellious of the children. 

Harmony only comes to the Khan family, not when all of George's children change their ways and do as their father orders, but once he is able to accept them as people at once the same and vastly different to him. It is not them he is truly fighting with through out the film, but himself; trying to combat the self imposed guilt he makes himself feel at a life so unlike what his own parent's would have wanted for him. A beautifully crafted insight into the internal struggle of so many generations of immigrants that are still being fought today, and a film at once heartbreaking and gloriously up-lifting.