East Is East (film)

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East Is East
East is East.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Damien O'Donnell
Produced by Leslee Udwin
Screenplay by Ayub Khan-Din
Starring Om Puri
Linda Bassett
Jordan Routledge
Archie Panjabi
Chris Bisson
Music by Deborah Mollison
Cinematography Brian Tufano
Editing by Michael Parker
Studio FilmFour
BBC Films
Assassin Films
Distributed by Channel Four Films (UK)
Miramax Films (US)
Release dates
  • 5 November 1999 (1999-11-05)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English/Urdu-Hindi
Budget £2.5 million[1]

East Is East is a 1999 British comedy-drama film written by Ayub Khan-Din and directed by Damien O'Donnell. It is set in Salford, Greater Manchester in 1971, in a mixed-ethnicity British household headed by Pakistani father George (Om Puri) and an English mother, Ella (Linda Bassett). George expects his family to follow Pakistani ways, but his children, who were born and grew up in Britain, increasingly see themselves as British and reject Pakistani customs of dress, food, religion, and living in general, leading to a rise in tensions and conflicts in the whole family.

East Is East is based on the play of the same name by Ayub Khan-Din, which opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 1997.


Zahir "George" Khan is a Pakistani Muslim who has lived in England since 1937 and has been married to Ella, a British Roman Catholic of Irish descent, for 25 years. They have 7 children together: Nazir, Abdul, Tariq, Saleem, Maneer, Meenah, and Sajid, and run a popular fish and chips shop. George's first wife lives in Pakistan. The film starts with oldest son Nazir facing an arranged marriage to a Pakistani girl but finding himself unable to go through with it. He runs out at the start of the ceremony in front of all the family and guests, to his mother's distress and his father's chagrin, the latter spurring George on to disown his eldest son, forever telling anyone who asks about him that he is dead.

The next family crisis is the discovery that youngest son Sajid somehow never got circumcised as is preferred in Islam (which, comically, sends the Muslim children in the mosque into a panic). Sajid is promptly taken to the hospital to get circumcised. When Ella sees the pain her son has suffered due to the circumcision, the conflict between her love of her husband and her inability to stand up to him is readily visible. Left alone, the other children (barring Maneer) eat Islam-forbidden bacon and sausages until Meenah sees their parents returning with Sajid. They try to hide the evidence, but Ella smells it—then keeps George away just long enough for them to finish clearing up.

Meanwhile, George arranges with a Mr. Shah for next-in-line sons Abdul and Tariq to marry Nighat and Nushaaba, the comically ugly and overweight Shah daughters. George promises Mr. Shah that the marriages will happen, even after he has seen photos of his prospective daughters-in-law (and just managed to discreetly hide his disgust). When George shares the plans with Ella, she openly disagrees, reminding him what happened with Nazir. George shuts down, insisting that Nazir is dead and the other children have no right whatsoever to disagree with him. Sajid happens to overhear this and he blurts it out during a fight with Tariq, Saleem, and Meenah.

It seems that Tariq is already in a relationship with local white girl Stella Moorhouse, which they are keeping secret from George and Stella's racist grandfather. Despite the others' attempts to stop him, Tariq destroys the clothes and watches his father has traditionally bought for all his sons' weddings. When George sees the desecrated items, he assaults Maneer (the only one who follows George's strict rules) for refusing to name the culprit. Ella stands between them, greatly angering and confusing her husband, and says that his "pig-like" ignorance has alienated his children and caused them to be what he thinks of as "so much trouble." George misunderstands, only hearing the terrible insult to a Muslim: being called a pig. Enraged, he beats her badly and the children attempt to flee to Nazir in Eccles—where he is living with a male partner. Nazir drives back to Manchester to confront George. His mother begs him to go, claiming that his father will go mad. Desperate not to see his mother hurt, Nazir gives in and turns around, urging her to come to him when she needs to get away. George does briefly see Nazir as he drives away, but he appears more regretful than angry.

George, seeing his world collapse around him as he loses his family's control and respect, resorts to severe measures. His offspring see themselves as British, not Pakistani, and they get increasingly frustrated with their father's attempts to mould them in his image. Tariq tries speaking to his father reasonably, George will not listen and even threatens Tariq at knifepoint. Tariq finally agrees to obey him, but hints that he will divorce his ugly wife as soon as possible.

Mr and Mrs Shah and their daughters finally arrive. Both girls are obese, Nushaaba has an abnormally-huge overbite, and Nighat is simply ugly; and it is hinted that they speak little English. Ella knows she has brought up her children well, but the snobby and rude Mrs Shah makes constant subtle attacks on her. The final straw occurs when Saleem accidentally drops his sculpture of a vagina on Mrs Shah's lap. Mrs Shah directly insults Ella and her sons, calling them "half-breeds". Ella angrily ejects the Shahs and their "inbred monstrosities" from the house. As expected, George blames Ella instead of Mrs Shah, but Ella stands her ground and calls George the source of the family's misery. Again George attacks Ella, but the children team up to defend their mother and halt their father. This shows him that his unjust position has driven his whole family away, even Maneer, and he breaks down, realizing that his best intentions have backfired dreadfully. Seeing that he is no longer the man of the house, he quietly departs and finds solace in the family's chip shop.

Despite this, Ella still sees George as her husband and realizes that she will remain faithful and loyal to him until the end. The film ends on George and Ella having tea together, Tariq attempting to reconcile with Stella, and the children playing together in the street.


  • Om Puri - Zahir "George" Khan, the patriarch of the Khan family. Although he loves his family, he cares more for his own image and dignity than their happiness.
  • Linda Bassett - Ella Khan, George's wife. An Irish-Catholic, she finds herself unable to stand up to George until he pushes her too far by abusing their children.
  • Ian Aspinall - Nazir "Nigel" Khan, the oldest son. He is disowned by George after fleeing an arranged marriage for a homosexual relationship.
  • Raji James - Abdul "Arthur" Khan, the second son. He seems to dislike conflict and does not rebel against George's authority until he abuses Ella.
  • Jimi Mistry - Tariq "Tony" Khan, the third son. He is the most rebellious and even attempts to flee to Eccles when he learns of George's marriage plans for him.
  • Emil Marwa - Maneer "Gandhi" Khan, the fourth son. He is the only one who obeys George's rules, and ironically the only one who George beats. He is devout and spends much time reading quietly in his room.
  • Chris Bisson - Saleem "Picasso" Khan, the fifth son. He seems indifferent to George's authority but stands by his mother and siblings when George goes too far. On a comical note, he is studying Foundation Art, while George believes he is training to become an engineer.
  • Archie Panjabi - Meenah Khan, the sixth child and the only daughter. She also has a rebellious streak and frequently teases Sajid.
  • Jordan Routledge - Sajid "Spaz" Khan, the sixth son and youngest child. The pain he undergoes following his late circumcision is what prompts Ella to rethink her attitude towards George. He wears a parka at all times of day and night.
  • Emma Rydal - Stella Moorhouse, Tariq's secret girlfriend. Their relationship becomes somewhat strained once she finds out George has planned to marry Tariq off.
  • John Bardon - Mr. Moorhouse, Stella and Earnest's grandfather. He has old-fashioned (clearly bigoted) ideas about race and ethnicity, supporting controversial political figures like Enoch Powell, and does not know of Stella's relationship with Tariq, although he is frequently irritated by Earnest's friendship with the Khans, who openly dislike him.
  • Gary Damer - Earnest "Pongo" Moorhouse, Stella's younger brother. Like Stella, he is friends with the Khans, being Sajid's best friend and harbouring an unrequited crush on Meenah. It is implied that he is somewhat weird and often abused by his grandfather.
  • Ruth Jones - Peggy, Stella's best friend. She appears jealous of Stella's relationship with Tariq and tries desperately to find a boyfriend, but her overweight figure repels boys. In the end, she is implied to have a romantic fling with Saleem.
  • Madhav Sharma - Mr Shah, a devout Muslim desperately seeking Pakistani bridegrooms for his two comically unattractive daughters. Though he appears amiable on the outside, he is actually mean-spirited and rude, scoffing at Earnest Moorhouse for no reason and branding Ella as a disgrace solely for speaking back to his snobbish wife even when she insulted Ella first. On a comical note, his constant sweating is a sign of poor hygiene.
  • Lesley Nicol - Auntie Annie, Ella's sister. She frequently helps George and Ella at the chip shop and has an amiable relationship with George, although she advises Ella not to be too soft with him.

International exhibition and responses[edit]

US poster obscuring the film's British Pakistani character by featuring a blond woman.

East Is East was remarkably successful for a low-budget comedy (£1.9 million budget), grossing some £10 million in the UK and more than $4.1 million in US cinemas, plus being a big hit across Europe.[2] In addition, when the film was released on video and DVD, it made £12.3 million in UK rentals alone.[3]

Miramax, the film's US distributor, obscured the presence of South Asian characters in the marketing of the film: the poster features the face of a blonde woman, with the Asian characters appearing only in small windows.

In France, the film was called Fish and Chips: la comédie qui croustille! ("Fish and Chips: the crunchy comedy!").[4]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the BAFTA Awards, and was declared Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards.[5]

The screenwriter, Ayub Khan-Din, won both a British Independent Film Award and a London Critics Circle Film Award for his screenplay. He was also nominated for two BAFTA Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer, and for a European Film Award for Best Screenwriter.[6]

The director, Damien O'Donnell, won Best Debut at the UK Empire Awards, won the Evening Standard British Film Awards and Fantasporto for Best Film, won the OCIC Special Award at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, won the Kingfisher Award at the Ljubljana International Film Festival, and received a number of nominations, among them a British Independent Film Awards nomination and a David di Donatello Awards nomination.[5]


A sequel, West Is West, premiered at film festivals in Toronto and London in the autumn of 2010, and was on general UK release from February 2011. A third film about the family is being planned.[7]


  1. ^ Alexander Walker, Icons in the Fire: The Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone in the British Film Industry 1984-2000, Orion Books, 2005 p301
  2. ^ Gritten, David (2000-04-02). "A Culture Clash That's Universal". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-18. 
  3. ^ Internet Movie Database: East is East box office results
  4. ^ French cinema poster, retrieved 2010-10-24
  5. ^ a b Internet Movie Database: East is East awards, retrieved 2010-10-24
  6. ^ Internet Movie Database: Ayub Khan-Din awards, retrieved 2010-10-24
  7. ^ BBC Manchester 20 October 2010: West is West follow-up confirmed by Salford film writer, retrieved 2010-10-24

External links[edit]