chatWriter Ayub Khan-Din talks about painting a larger canvas in ‘West is West', drawing from personal experiences
Before ‘crossover' became an overused and abused buzzword, British comedy dramaEast is Easttook us into the world of George Khan (Om Puri), the authoritarian father who wants his Brit-bred children to adhere to Pakistani customs. Twelve years after the smash hit comes its sequel,West is West.The film, set in 1975, takes a four-year leap. Authoritarian dad George Khan is worried that his 15-year-old son Sajid (essayed by Aqib Khan) hasn't taken to his Pakistani heritage, and decides to take him on a visit to Pakistan. Ayub Khan-Din, the man who penned both the films, talks about the sequel that opens in India on June 10. Excerpts from an interview:
Ever since ‘East is East' became a phenomenon, a sequel was expected. What took 12 years for ‘West is West'?
I never wanted to do the sequel straight away. Hurried sequels have always been a cheap rehashes of the original with no real thought to the story or characters. For me it was always important that any sequel toEast is East had to be a standalone film that takes the story of this family onto a bigger playing field. So I refused any attempt to persuade me to start writing till I felt I was ready to do it.
Is ‘West is West' autobiographical like its predecessor?
The film is based on my experiences of being sent to Pakistan in 1974. Like the character Sajid, I was experiencing racism at school, so I started truanting and hanging out in the local town getting up to no good. My parents didn't know what to do with me. In the end it was agreed to send me to Pakistan in the hope that it would instil some kind of discipline in me. I spent a year there, initially resenting it, but slowly I began to enjoy myself as I ran wild through the Punjab, travelling up to Mirpur and the Mongla Dam area, where my father was born.
You have managed to work with the same creative team again, after more than a decade.
Working with the same creative team makes for a great short hand. For me, I need a producer who believes in the work as much as I do. This I have in Leslee Udwin, who is equally passionate about this story. To be able to work with the same actors allows me to take the characters and give them so much more range. These actors know their characters as much as I do.
What was the change you observed in Om Puri while working on the sequel and what is your impression of Aqib Khan?
I think Om Puri is one of the greatest screen actors in the world today. It's always a pure joy to work with him. I had no worries whatsoever about taking his character George Khan and painting on a bigger emotional canvas. This time round we had a new Sajid, played by Aquib Khan and what a find he was! In many ways he, like Om-Ji, is an instinctive actor.
In the last decade, we have seen several Indian films approach similar subjects. Did you think a sense of déjà vu would set in?
I think as long as we have immigration we will always have immigration stories, as each generation looks back on its history to see what it has achieved, or what it hasn't. India has seen revolutionary change over the last 20 years. It's natural and right that filmmakers and writers will be constantly looking for stories within that change. You have to return to those stories. Never ignore the past, because it's history that informs our future.
What are the other projects you are working on, apart from ‘Rafta Rafta'?
Rafta Rafta will come out next June in England; it is based on a stage play I wrote for the Royal National Theatre. Later this year I have the premier of a new play calledAll The Way Home.At the moment I am writing a musical set in a failing film studio in 1950s Bombay for the National Theatre.
sangeetha devi dundoo
As long as we have immigration we will have immigration stories, as each generation looks back on its history.