Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle East Is East

By Bryan Poyser

MAY 29, 2000: 

D: Damien O'Donnell; with Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jordan Routledge, Archie Punjabi, Emil Marwa, Chris Bisson. (R, 96 min.)

This dizzying comedy of cultural collision was a big indigenous hit in the UK, nominated for six BAFTA awards (the national equivalent of the Oscars), yet it somehow misses its mark. Adapted by Ayub Khan-Din (but directed by first-timer Damien O'Donnell) from his own hit play of the same name, this story of a Pakistani father whose six kids and white English wife rebel against his vision of a traditional family has a solid premise from which to investigate teenage rebellion and a kind of reverse assimilation. But the film itself seems more calculated to set off explosions of embarrassed laughter with its sometimes explicit and outrageous humor in the vein of the last British comedy to hit it big in the States, The Full Monty. The film has its funny moments, but those moments seem to put the characters we've been charmed by into cartoonish versions of their real lives. The family is in an unusual situation, apart from the predominantly white English community and the Pakistani immigrant population, a sort of misfit island. The film is very good at portraying the family as this single unit, with each member fulfilling its own emotional function. There is the playboy Tariq, the artist Saleem, the reserved and thoughtful Abdul, the devout Muslim "Daddy's Boy" Maneer, the tomboy and only girl Meenah, the runt of the litter Sajid, and the wayward son Nazir, who flees from his arranged marriage and is disowned by his father at the beginning of the film. Ella, their mother, acts as kind of a highway median, keeping her kids and their father from smashing into each other as they chase after their diametrically opposed ambitions. Although it is sure to further split up the family, George Khan (Puri) arranges for Tariq and Abdul to marry two highly unattractive girls from another Pakistani family. Through his stubbornness, George becomes a kind of foreign particle in the body of his family, which moves further and further from where he wants it to go. All the children, save for the mostly mute Maneer, are infatuated with Western culture and their freedom to drink, dance, dress oddly, and pursue their own interests. This is the 1970s and the film revels in the kitschy fun of the period. All of this is lost on George, who, without the grace and humanity brought to the role by Om Puri (My Son, the Fanatic), would be an inexcusable tyrant. His every word to his children is a barked order, every reaction shot has him exasperated, and he even goes as far as taking a hand to his wife and kids. Even his most noble aspirations to build a traditional Pakistani family are shown to be based on the fear that he will be looked down upon by other Pakistani immigrants. In its way, the film is as much of an indictment of fatherhood as Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration, though not as violently thorough. In the character of George and in the character of Tariq's white girlfriend's father, a devout racist, fatherhood is linked with authoritarianism and intolerance. George is a beaten man at the film's end, rejected from his home and family after a violent outburst and redeemed only by his wife's forgiveness. This is not to say that the film is no fun, however. It doesn't suffer from one moment of stagy theatricality in its translation from Khan-Din's play, indeed its exuberance and eagerness to please sometimes undermines the emotional thrust of a scene. The film was a pleasure to watch for the cast alone and their accomplishments should not be obscured by underwritten characters and overwritten jokey set-pieces.

2.5 Stars

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