In 1999, ‘East Is East’ deservedly became a smash hit in UK cinemas. The story of George and Ella Kahn, their rambunctious family and their life in a Salford chip shop in the early 1970s was a culture clash comedy with a serious side. Given the ongoing collapse of mining, the rising unemployment and the sudden influx of a large Pakistani population, neighbourhood tensions were bound to rise, and Ella (Linda Bassett) takes the brunt of it as her Asian husband finds his cultural identity coming adrift. The film closed with a moment of violence and forgiveness that must have resonated with many. But it was also a very funny and unexpected story.
Now, a sequel belatedly turns up (thirteen years after!), is hardly reviewed and barely opens in cinemas. Set four years after the first, it brings the key characters back but now focusses on young Sajid’s problems. Bullied at school, the boy is getting into trouble and losing his way, just as his father did. What better remedy, then, than to take him back to Pakistan to discover his roots, and while they’re there, arrange a marriage for an older son?
That won’t be easy. Armed only with a volume of Rudyard Kipling from his teacher, Sajid returns his first greeting from a local boy with ‘Fook off, Mowgli’ and, just as he refused to remove his parka hood in the first film, can’t be parted from his Western clothes. George (Om Puri) has been sending money home for 30 years to support his first wife and daughters, the unmarried son has an obsession with Nana Mouskouri, and the stage is set for a showdown when Ella arrives with her common-as-muck neighbour, and the two Mrs Kahns must learn to accept each other. When the neighbour gets an upset stomach, Ella warns ‘Don’t you dare shit yourself in front of his family!’
Thirteen years on, the lessons learned that hinge on the mystical charms of rural Asia are too familiar to us, but this is still an enjoyable if broader riposte to the first film, especially in a scene where the two wives explain their feelings without understanding each other’s language. It didn’t need to be made, but it’s a pleasure to share some time with the characters again. Naturally, there’s a wedding at the end.