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|March **, 2000|
East is East opens to mixed reviews
East is East, the hit film and last week's winner of the 1999 best British film award, opened yesterday in the US in New York City and Los Angeles.
Critics were unanimous in their praise for the Indian character actor Om Puri's performance as George Khan, a working class Pakistani immigrant married to a British wife and father of seven rebellious children. The same critics, however, did not agree on the entire film itself.
New York Post gave East is East a three-star rating and referred to it as The Full Monty of 2000, a fresh, funny and poignant film filled with sparkling performances." On the other hand, the on-line entertainment web magazine Mr Showbiz.com called the film predictable, where "you can see the wall it's going to hit hours before it gets there".
Based on an autobiographical play and script by actor and writer Ayub Khan-Din, East is East also stars British stage actress Linda Bassett as George's wife Ella and a charming group of young Asian-British actors -- Jimi Mistry, Jordan Routledge, Archie Punjabi, Emil Marwa, Chris Bisson, Raji James and Ian Aspinall. The film is directed by a first time Irish director, Damien O'Donnell.
Veteran film critic Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said that from being one India's major screen actors, Puri is now "emerging as an international star as well." The film, he added "allows the craggy, forceful Puri to discover some Lear-like dimensions in George. Thomas also praised Khan-Din and O'Donnell for doing "a masterful job in making this stage adaptation seem completely cinematic."
Writing in New York's news weekly Village Voice, Amy Taubin said that Puri "who was so affecting" in Udyan Prasad's My Son the Fanatic, gives "an even more explosive and anguished performance here." She added that Puri does not sentimentalize the character of George and "makes us aware of the terrible sense of loss and failure that pushes him over the edge."
She described the film as "largely a showcase for Puri, and (that) he rises to the occasion with a performance that bursts from the screen and tears into your heart."
Taubin said as a "displaced patriarchal everyman," Puri's George reminded her of her own first-generation Jewish-American father.
New York Post's Jonathan Foreman wrote that the film "shuns the whining, sentimental cliches so common in plays and movies that deal with the experience of children growing up in south Asian or mixed race families."
He added, "O'Donnell directs this film with the dexterity and eye for detail of a bold master surgeon. He elicits uniformly excellent performances from his fine cast."
A O Scott of the The New York Times referred to Puri as one of the best actors in the "English-speaking world" whose "performance discovers levels of emotion that his character can neither control not comprehend." He said that Puri gives George "contours of tragedy," and described the character as the "raging, frustrated, imperfectly loving father out of Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller."
Unfortunately, Scott said, the world that George "inhabits is pure Neil Simon: a warm, soapy bath of gentle immigrant comedy and kitchen-table pathos."
Scott was most critical of O'Donnell's handling of the demands of Khan-Din's script. George's anger, Scott wrote, "blows the film apart, and Mr O'Donnell's attempts to restore its tone of easygoing farce seem awkward, even insensitive."
Scott praised two recent British works based on Hanif Kureishi's writings, My Son the Fanatic and The Buddha of Suburbia, as representation of "the complex dialectic of identity and assimilation that Britain's south Asian immigrant have faced". He added that in comparison East is East is "a step in the wrong direction."
East is East earned another negative review from New York's suburban daily newspaper, Newsday. John Anderson, the newspaper's critic, wrote that he had a problem comprehending the relationship between George and Ella -- his wife of 25 years.
"They don't communicate very well -- and they're poles apart on the happiness of their children," Anderson wrote questioning the basic premise of the film, that Ella continues to live with George, despite her husband's abusive behavior.
"There's no detectable chemistry between the two, no apparent explanation for why they ever married. Was George a hot catch in his day? Whatever made him attractive once has become elusive, maybe not to Ella, but definitely to us."
Anderson added that Puri was great in My Son the Fanatic, but in this film he "speaks in some impenetrable pidgin English."
Although praising Puri, Village Voice's Taubin said that the rest of the cast is more like "cartoon rather than complicated human being."
Scott also commented on the fact that since the Khans have seven children, the younger family members are too numerous to have complex personalities, "and so they are given cute easily identifiable traits instead."
Taubin also had a problem with the way the distributor of East is East, the independent film production and distribution house Miramax, "make use of a young white actress who's barely onscreen for 10 minutes as the focus of the East is East poster."
In fact, unlike in the case of My Son the Fanatic (also distributed by Miramax), East is East's posters and ads in newspapers do not carry any picture of Puri, nor of Bassett. Most of the promotion material, including the film's preview trailer, focus on the charming young actor Jimi Mistry who plays Tariq, the most rebellious of the Khan children and a neighborhood heartthrob.
East is East is currently playing the following theaters -- New York City's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Anglika Film Center; and Los Angeles' Sunset 5 (West Hollywood) and Westside Pavilion Cinemas (W Pico). Over the next several weeks, Miramax plans to release the film at other major centers in the US.
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