NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - In 1999, the low-budget British film “East is East”, about the clash of cultures in a Muslim Pakistani family living in Manchester, became a surprise worldwide hit, winning awards and grossing over $15 million.
More than a decade later, the makers of the movie are back with “West is West” — a sequel set in Pakistan that has Bollywood’s Om Puri reprising his role as George Khan and many others from the original cast.
Leslee Udwin, who produced both films, told Reuters from London that “West is West” would be released later this year and a third film about Khan and his children may soon be on screens.
Q: Why a sequel to “East is East” after 10 years?
A: “I always felt there was a trilogy to be made based on what I had come to learn of the writer’s own story when he and I worked together on developing East is East. This is not a cynically made sequel — in other words it has not been made in the spirit of a hoped for repeat of East is East, or else we would have jumped on that bandwagon some years earlier.”
Q: What is “West is West” about?
A: “West is West begins some five years after East is East ended. Sajid, the runt of the Khan litter, is now the only one left at home. He is 15 and deep in the crisis of puberty, isolation, bullying... he is clearly going astray, and is confused and distressed. George decides the only way to sort him out is to take him to Pakistan and show him who he is and where he comes from. So off they go to rural Punjab, to George’s first wife and daughters whom he abandoned 35 years previously.
“Once there, George is confronted with his own past, finds he has as much to learn about himself as his son does. Essentially, this is a coming-of-age film for both 15-year-old Sajid and also for his 60-year-old father.”
Q: Was it hard to get the original cast on board?
A: “Not at all. The actors from East is East had been a very close, tight-knit and happy family and they were all keen to take the story and their characters forward into the sequel.”
Q: How similar or different is it to East is East?
A: “The new film shares a lot with East is East. Its sensibilities are similar: it’s both funny and moving. Whilst we start the film in pretty familiar territory, we take off pretty soon after into a very new setting peopled with new extraordinary characters. I’d say the film is both a sequel and also a standalone film. You certainly don’t have to have seen East is East to fully appreciate West is West.”
Q: Is there a third film in the series?
A: “In my head and heart, there have always been three films. Whether and when we actually make a third one I cannot tell you, though the writer and I have started discussing the prospect. It will, like West is West have to grow organically and in its own time out of a passion to tell a further story.”
Q: You had a tough time getting funds for East is East. Was it easier to make and produce West is West?
A: “It should have been much easier. But to my shock it wasn’t. Film has not been a priority for the government for a long time now and the general financial crisis certainly didn’t help matters. The small tax credit available to British films was of not much use, since it’s dependent on shooting in the UK and we had only a week to shoot here, most of the film had inevitably to be shot in India. So it was a struggle, but BBC Films came to our rescue and a few individual financiers who had loved East is East came on board to complete the funding. We shot for five weeks in India and were based there, preparing for the shoot for two months beforehand.”
Q: You are an actress yourself. Were you tempted to act in ‘West is West’?
A: “No. I am strangely not really tempted to act at all any longer and certainly would never dream of acting in my own films. Producing is too all consuming and concentration is needed every minute of every day. I wouldn’t have the time or inclination to spare the time to act in one of my films.”
Editing by Miral Fahmy