Ah, opening night….Rebellious boy feels out of place and defiant his whole life, and is finally reacquainted with long-lost relatives; the devalued, underappreciated history of his people is celebrated and finds an honored place in his heart.
And the movie was great, too.
Yes, the plot of WEST IS WEST resonated across immigrant memories and family dramas, and reminded me of the epic – and universal – dimensions of our stories. Whole worlds come apart and new worlds are formed from even the most commonplace, everyday events.
A Pakistani man immigrates to England for work, and ends up starting a new family; all are set to reconciling places, times and cultures. The original EAST IS EAST was a hilarious and tragic look at the absurd attempts of Jayangir “George” Khan to bend his children’s will to his own, to uphold his authority and his version of “tradition”. It was painful to watch him take out his anger in violent ways against his sons and even his British wife. Underneath the anger was a frustration with a society that marginalized him and a confusion over modernity. It was heartwarming in turns too, as we saw the strength and resilience of his family and a wife who truly loved him. EAST IS EAST was a kind of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, British Pakistani style, with the father struggling to sustain the past against the unstoppable forces of change. A classic film: I highly recommend it.
WEST IS WEST continues the story of Khan (again played by Om Puri) and his family. Sajid, Khan’s youngest son, acts out in school after being tormented by classmates. He stands out, as a “Hapa Pakistani” boy. Khan decides to return to Pakistan with him to get him in touch with his heritage. This happens in ways the father doesn’t expect. The young teen, overwhelmed by being surrounded by brown-skinned people for the first time in his life, hugs a beggar woman, mistaking her for a relative – which she is, in a manner of speaking. The mother country hugs him in turn, breaking through his anger and self-hatred with affirmation and wisdom. The anger of the father is tamed with a recognition of how his choices have damaged relationships, how he has hurt the feminine principle in pursuit of his own goals. A surrogate father figure appears, Yoda-like, presenting another model for masculinity, neither submissive or defiant, but at peace with the world and himself. The feminine principle of relatedness is restored. And of course, it all ends in song and dance and a spectacular South Asian wedding!
We were fortunate to have Aqib Khan (Sajid) present with us. This was his acting debut, having been plucked out of school for the part two years ago. Festival Managing Director Christine Kwon asked him how he prepared for the role. “As a teenager, you do go through all these emotions,” Khan said. Oh, to remember the pain. As a third generation British Pakistani, he said “it’s not as bad as the 70’s (when the film was set), but I still could relate.” He praised the writer Ayub Khan-Din’s ability to “see even more deeply into the lives of his characters” in the sequel. Have fun sightseeing, Aqib, and thanks for a fantastic performance! Best wishes for your career, it’s off to a great start!
This was also Festival Director Masashi Niwano’s debut – and he was greeted with enthusiasm. He’s left behind the barbecue of Austin to take over the Fest helm from Chi-hui Yang, who is off spreading the gospel of Asian American cinema on Comcast’s Cinema Asian America. Welcome, Masashi – and congrats on SFIAAFF 29! I’m still quaking in fear from your horror outreach department’s attempts to get me to come to your “Sidebar of Scare”.
I’ve seen two of the films already, safe under my covers – but I’ll brave the dark San Francisco night to see one more! NANG NAK , AFFLICTION and HISTERIA are well worth the price you’ll pay, bwahahahaha!
I’m looking forward to seeing THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE again next week – yes, it’s that good. I hope to have interviews with directors Zeina Durra and Iris Shim (HOUSE OF SUH ) posted soon. Gurinder Chadha and Ramona Diaz premiere new films this weekend as well, and will be in conversation on stage.
I’ll see you online and IRL (in real life)!
(If you’re interested in learning more about the feminine in film, consider attending this Esalen seminar in April directed by my mentor and CAAM supporter Dr. Francis Lu.)
Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. He invites you to check out his new, occasional blog, The Pacific Heart, at Psychology Today, and consider adding him to your newsfeed.