Totally Foreign: “East is East”

Written by Michael McNeely September 08, 2011

Michael McNeely is profoundly deaf and hears with the assistance of a cochlear implant, making him a cyborg who can get mighty impatient when dialogue-heavy movies lack subtitles. When not hitting up the cinema or his local video store, he is investigating (privately) how human beings interact with each other – and thinking about lesson planning. Yes, that’s Mr. McNeely to you!

East is East (1999) 

Country of Origin: UK
Languages: English, Urdu

When George Khan (Om Puri) calls his wife a bitch and threatens to kill her and their family because they have shamed him, I stopped laughing. This movie’s box cover touted the film as “hilarious” and “a roaring good time.” See, that’s one of my pet peeves, when I expect a comedy and find, instead, a drama with a few funny parts thrown in for good measure. A drama is fine and all, but I was expecting… Bend it Like Beckham, err… except that was a little serious too, well, I’m sure you know what I mean. My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

There’s Rajid, one of George’s many sons, who is obsessed with wearing a parka both indoors and outdoors, which is kind of funny on the face of it, but this proclivity is never explained. What is more groan-inducingly funny, at least for my fair sex, is that George, a devout Muslim from Pakistan who resides in England with his second wife, an Englishwoman, wants Rajid to get a snip-snip in accordance to his strict beliefs of what makes a good (Muslim) son. Rajid may be young, but he’s old enough for the circumcision to be a little scary and to hurt. Ah well, father knows best, and that’s where the film’s primary conflict kicks in.

George believes in arranging marriages for his children in order to bolster his reputation in the Muslim community where he lives. He is constantly ashamed by his family who, aside from one son, do not share his devout/strict beliefs – bacon is eaten, his kids march with Jesus on a cross to make friends, and one son refuses to marry a girl because, he’s, well, gay, and this isn’t Brokeback Mountain by a long shot. Daddy doesn’t know his oldest son is gay, but it doesn’t matter, the son is dead to him anyway. Son moves out, gets a cushy job at a hat store and is obviously in a sexual liaison with his friend err boss. That’s it. That’s all we know about this son, just like the one without any foreskin – one or two “interesting” facts that are pretty interesting at first-look, but that’s all you get for the film’s duration – what makes the characters tick? No idea.

It is a step in the right direction – having Muslim characters that don’t talk about terrorism (really), but they are still caricatures or shells of what they could potentially be. I think the problem is that there is too many characters. George has seven children and a wife, and the film struggles with keeping track of them all. And of course, comedy functions best on stereotypes anyway, but this movie doesn’t want to be a comedy does it? Three girls are routinely called fat and ugly – two of those are the girls that are going to be married off to yet two more sons (as if their being ugly warrants not being in a forced marriage to them – I’d love to see a movie where the would-be bride is drop-dead gorgeous, yet, doesn’t want to marry the guy (and it’s from the guy’s P.O.V.). The third fat and ugly girl is weird – she loves watching her BFF make out with one of the sons (or doesn’t have a life).

The forward momentum of the film is the whole family vs. dad showdown, which occurs when the family of the two “ugly brides” comes over and sneers at them for not being Muslim enough (and, for a change, the family is actually trying to impress their guests). Alas, this showdown ends in a draw and so does the movie.

1999 is different from 2001 and 2009, where Kingston had its own “honour killing” – four women were drowned. That’s why I didn’t laugh when George was threatening to kill his family. A few people actually have done it, and the film doesn’t know what to do on serious ground, so, alas, it’s a comedy, but not that funny.

My Rating: 6.5/10



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Michael McNeely

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

There are currently no comments on Totally Foreign: “East is East”. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment