East Is East

Stage is stage and screen is screen and never the twain shall meet—unless one puts a hell of a lot of thought into it. Unfortunately, Damien O'Donnell hasn't in his plunked-down-on-celluloid adaptation of Ayub Khan-Din's London-to-off-Broadway hit comedy. Om Puri stars as a Pakistani patriarch in 1971 mod England who realizes late in the game that his five sons and daughter have slipped beyond his cultural control. His frantic attempts to bring his swinging brood back to the rigid standards of Islamic purity that he—the proprietor of a fish-and-chips shop in Manchester with a salt-of-the-earth English wife of 25 years—has never adhered to himself provide most of the film's cross-cultural gags and tensions. Puri is a brilliant actor. One has only to see him in a somewhat similar role in Udayan Prasad's My Son the Fanatic to realize what he can do with a performance that isn't pitched, along with everything else in the frame, to the second balcony. For O'Donnell tones down nothing for the camera. The two girls Puri arranges to have his middle sons marry aren't merely dutiful sari-wearing strangers; they're the kind of cross-eyed, bucktoothed caricatures of feminine unattractiveness that went out with mother-in-law jokes. Up close, all sorts of stage exaggerations that from a distance might have appeared dramatic or farcical look cheap and grotesque, with an over-the-top theatricality that always seems reserved on-screen for gays and ethnic others. Yet ultimately East Is East is far less insulting to Pakistanis or Mancunians than it is to its audience. 96 min.

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