East is East
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This week’s lesson: you can’t judge a movie by its cover.

When I picked up East is East and read the description on the box, I thought I’d picked up a light, funny movie about a Muslim Pakistani father who brings about all kinds of crazy teenage rebellion when he announces that he’s arranged marriages for his two young playboy sons. The summary on the box even called it a “hilarious, good-time comedy.”

But don’t be fooled—as I was. East is East isn’t the wacky My-Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding-like culture comedy that you might expect from the description. Actually, East is East is the story of George Khan (Om Puri), a Muslim who moves from Pakistan (leaving behind a Pakistani wife) to England, where he meets and marries Ella (Linda Bassett), a British woman. Twenty-five years later (in 1971), George and Ella have a chip shop and seven children (six boys and a girl) who aren’t turning out as George expected. When the oldest son runs out of his arranged marriage ceremony, George decides that it’s well past time to put his foot down. He sends the kids to the Mosque school to teach them about their culture—but they don’t really seem to care. One son, Tariq (Jimi Mistry)—known as “Tony” in the night clubs around town—is the area’s most eligible bachelor. Another son is studying art—though his dad thinks he’s in college for engineering. And their youngest son spends his life hidden behind the hood of his grubby parka.

In order to stop worrying about his kids and their non-Muslim ways, George decides that he needs to marry them off—so he secretly arranges for Tariq and another son, Abdul (Raji James), to marry what could be the two ugliest Muslim girls in all of England. When Ella finds out, she’s furious—but nowhere near as furious as Tariq is when he finds out.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that East is East is totally unlike the description I read. The movie itself isn’t really about rebellious teens. Other than Tariq, the kids aren’t all that rebellious—and the arranged marriage part doesn’t even appear until quite late in the film. It’s more about a rigid father who tries to hold his children to the ways of a country they’ve never even seen. And while there are a few humorous moments (many of which rely on a rather vulgar sense of humor), East is East is definitely not what I’d call a “hilarious, good-time comedy.” In fact, I found it somewhat depressing.

The part that bothered me most was the film’s subtle way of making child and spouse abuse look like an acceptable way to keep a family in line. “Father knows best,” the film seems to tell viewers. “He’s just looking out for his family. And if they won’t obey, sometimes he needs to be hard on them—and that’s okay because they deserve it.”

East is East is an interesting look at Pakistani/Muslim culture—and at what happens when two very different cultures collide. But while it has its bright, humorous moments, I can’t say that this was a movie that put a smile on my face—or one that’s on my list of movies to see again. So if you want to watch a comedic film about cultural issues, see My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And let this be a warning to you: don’t believe everything you read on the cover of a movie.

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