East is East was a sterling drama that was as funny as it was moving and was equally adept at being both. West is West comes twelve years later with a large amount of the original cast, as well as the same writer, Ayub Khan-Din, but not the same director.
The story takes place only four years after the events of the first film with the youngest son of the Khan family, Sajid (Aqib Khan), having trouble coming to terms with his roots in Pakistan, due to his bullying at school. His father George (Om Puri) is desperate for his final son to appreciate his background, as most of the others have turned their backs on it. This, naturally, requires George and Sajid to take a trip to the Punjab to live with his first wife and her family. However, things inevitably get rather complicated.
First things first, is it as good as the great original? West is West tries very hard to duplicate the successful template of powerful drama and clever, though sometimes gross-out, gags. It has sequences with a lot of worried and regretful glances and scenes of extravagant shouting and it does have jokes. Largely, however, it fails to be either moving or funny. The drama is derived from George’s apparent abandonment of one family for another. A difficult subject it may be, but the film tackles it poorly. Initially it is near impossible to sympathize with George or the people who love him, and George’s eventual excuse – his wanting to travel – is much too easy. Beyond this, what is particularly annoying is the sidelining of Linda Bassett, the best thing about the first film, to a largely marginal character with not a lot to do. That noted, there is at least one good scene with her in it, albeit a badly written one, in which she and George’s first wife come to a mutual reconciliation despite being unable to speak each other’s language.
As for the comedy, there are a few laughs here and there, but the film is full of mistimed scenes that were clearly considered funnier than they are, Jimi Mistry’s cameo a case in point. One part of the film never really seems to know what the other parts are doing, making the film something of a montage of long scenes that never really coalesce. This confusion is further emphasised by the figure of Rudyard Kipling and his book Kim. Initially it is seen in a comical light as a symbol of English misrepresentations of the Punjab. Then, it’s a portrait of a culture that helps Sajid appreciate his roots. Then it is “imperialist rubbish” before it finally becomes a memento of a great land. This confusion, over the film’s general tone and content, is what makes West is West such an under-whelming experience.
Neither as funny nor as moving as it should be, West is West feels like a sequel that exists only because East is East was such a big hit, though one that ran out of time. A sequel that took that long to put together is too removed for its original source to work and, in terms of its potential to muddy a classic, that’s probably a good thing.