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DPAC explores cultural heritage with film series

Courtney Cox | Monday, September 26, 2011

The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center in conjunction with the Nanovic Institute provided a complete night of indie-foreign film gold Friday.

Producer and citizen of the world Leslee Udwin presented two films she produced, “East is East” and “West is West.”

Ayub Khan-Din wrote “East is East, which follows his childhood very closely.

Khan-Din was the son of a Pakistani immigrant who left behind his wife and two daughters to earn more money and send it home. In the meantime, however, he fell in love with an English woman.

They married and had 10 children together in the UK. Ayub Khan-Din was the youngest of these 10 children.

The father in the film, George Khan, was a strict disciplinarian who insisted on instilling Pakistani values in his children.

The film opens on the oldest son’s wedding day. It is a marriage the father arranged to another Pakistani woman. When the bride and groom are seated at the wedding ceremony, the groom suddenly splits and runs away from both the ceremony and any possible relationship with his family.

The seven children in the film all showed varying levels of compliance with George’s near tyrannical attitude about their upbringing.

They eat pork when he’s away from the house, they participate in Catholic festivals and they go out to discos and drink into the early hours of the morning — all activities that go against the Islamic religion.

George Khan, in an attempt to force his cultural beliefs on two more of his sons, arranges a marriage for each of them to rather unsightly Pakistani girls.

When the sons find out, they are furious and rebel against their father.

The best part of the film, however, is that it speaks to a very deep subject matter without getting bogged down by unrealistic story lines or melodramatic acting. It tackles cultural identity with a distinct sense of humor, making it feel so much more real. It’s something any audience member can relate to, even if they know nothing about being a Pakistani living in the UK.

By not venturing into the realm of serious drama, “East is East” captures the hearts of viewers and provokes a greater understanding of just how complicated cultural identity can be.

The film won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the 2000 BAFTA’s and was named Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards.

The great reception the film received opened doors for filmmakers to make other movies about the Asian experience in the UK.

Udwin said it “paved the way for films like ‘Bend it like Beckham’ and ‘Monsoon Wedding’ to be made.”

The sequel “West is West” was made in 2010 and centers around the youngest son of George Khan, Sajid Khan.

Sajid was a prominent character in “East is East” and often provided many of the most humorous moments in the first film.

In “West is West,” George takes Sajid back to Pakistan to experience the culture firsthand. It is his attempt to force his son to identify with Pakistan in a way that only one of his other sons did.

At first Sajid is resistant. He wears his suit everywhere instead of conforming by wearing traditional Pakistani clothing.

He befriends a boy his age in the town and begins to open up to the experience.

“West is West” is the more serious of the pair, but it does not lose any of the heart that made the first film so incredible. It is a very real exploration of the struggle many go through to find their identity.

The double feature was a fantastic way to experience both films and learn about Pakistani culture in an entertaining form.