This is one those rare sequels which doesn’t really stop you from understanding what’s happening if you have not watched the earlier film.
The plot: This one too focuses on the ordeal of immigrants and the duality of their lives. George Khan (Om Puri) runs a ‘chippy’ in Salford, England. It’s 1976 and his youngest son Sajid (Aquib Khan) encounters racial discrimination for being a Pakistani. George and wife No 2, Ella (Linda Bassett) face a hard time dealing with the brat who has turned rebellious and unruly, and is involved in activities which embarrass the crusty George. After verbal spats, brawls and severe tussles between the kid, his friends and family members, George decides to take his half-gora lad to Pakistan, hoping for a hridayparivartan (change of heart) in him by introducing him to his homeland, culture and values. The lad doesn’t welcome Pakistan with open arms, considering his preconceived notions and his disinclination to come with his father to the country in the first place. He ends up spewing the F-word in every alternate sentence. As Sajid finally adjusts to a good life with a newfound ‘Mowgli’ friend and a teacher, the story shifts from son to father as Ella comes to Pakistan to take back her husband and son. In the process George, who is now Jehangir, ends up facing his earlier life which he had left ages back. He’d begun life as Jehangir Khan and there’s his first wife Basheera (Ila Arun) still around. His folks show him the mirror repeatedly to further bamboozle him about his identity. His efforts to deal with this identity crisis by facing his two wives, two lives, two names and different kids, make for a scrumptious Pak-English dish.
The good: The film breaks two myths. One, it proves that Pakistan is not only about terrorism and violence. Two, it shows an emotional side to white people, a bit of a surprise considering they are generally known to be reserved and reticent. The film projects some beautiful locales in India which are passed off as Pakistan. The colourful melas, shaadis and camels add to the picturesque effect. The muddle in Jehangir’s psyche worsens as he starts facing his guilt and accepts that he may not have been a good husband and father despite sending money to his family every month. His desperation to be a good father and good husband, at the same time his intransigent approach, his prejudices and his passion to be loyal to his roots, his culture and his nationality, bring out his vulnerable side. The performances are impeccable and Om Puri is as tough, mulish and rigid as ever. Ila Arun is rustic and pitiable like most woman there, Linda hits the right chord to be a nice second wife, strong and understanding, but it’s Aquib, clad in loose suits in the dusty streets of the village who steals the show. Aunty Annie adds humour as she enters Pakistan. The performances of Nadeem Sawalha as the wise and lovable Pir Naseem, Lesley Nicol as the amusing Aunt Annie, Robert Pugh as Sajid’s principal, Zita Sattar as the chirpy Japanese bride for Maneer (Sajid’s older sibling) and Raj Bhansali as the ‘Mowgli’ friend, are exceptional and add credence and strength to the story. There's a clever cameo by Jimmi Mistry who reprises his role as Sajid's elder brother Tariq. The scene of the two women Basheera and Ella not knowing each other’s language but conveying all that is required, is heavy-duty, well performed, well shot and well thought-out. The thought processes and the approach of a native who left his land make him a character to empathize with. The humour is added by young Sajid with his rebellious angst and the humongous cultural differences between the two tribes. The music is average but not extraordinary and the cinematography by Peter Robertson is fine.
The bad: The film gets repetitive at times while dealing with Jehangir’s identity crises and slackens pace. There is uncertainty as the film tries to tap several aspects of life like racial discrimination, guilt, identity crises, spiritual guidance, separation etc. Maneer (played by Emil Marwa), an earnest Nana Mouskouri-obsessive, who’s been living in the village in the hope of finding a bride, could have been given some more relevance. It tends to get a bit formulaic with the humour coming expectedly from altercations between cultures.
Overall: It’s frank, it’s poignant and smart. Spread with some light moments and some not so over-the-top dramatic moments, West Is West is worth a visit.
– Pooja Thakkar