Ila's Basheera

PUNJABI BY NATURE: Actor Ila Arun publicises her new film 'West is West'. Photo: S. Subramanium  

‘Feisty' could well be the middle name of Ila Arun. Spirited in her approach to both singing and acting, she was in Delhi recently to promote her film, “West is West”, releasing this Friday. Directed by Andy De Emmony, this British production is a sequel to the 1999 hit comedy “East is East”. Besides Ila Arun in a major role, other stars include Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimmy Mistry and Aqib Khan.

Ila provides a context to the sequel by saying, “As many would recall ‘East is East' was a story set in England, early seventies Manchester. Om Puri played Jehangir (George) Khan, an immigrant who had abandoned his wife and children in Pakistan and gone on to create a new life in England. Linda Bassett played the Englishwoman who became his second wife and they had children of their own.” Moving forward by four years, in 1976 the much diminished but still desperately fractured Khan family continues to struggle for survival. George Khan decides to return to Pakistan so that his youngest son (who he feels is “being corrupted by western ways”) gets a grounding in “Muslim culture”. Here he comes face to face with the wife he had abandoned nearly 30 years back – Basheera Khan played by Ila Arun.

First international role

Ila talks animatedly about her first role in an international project by saying, “My part was challenging and meaningful at many levels. I play a Pakistani Punjabi, the first wife of Jehangir (George) Khan. I had to make sure I spoke Punjabi with an authentic local touch. The same language has different intonations on either side of the border. Then there's the emotional core of the character. Basheera is a woman who was abandoned by her husband at the age of 18. Her struggles, her anguish and her resilience had to be communicated subtly. Not to mention how a character in her position tries to cope with the frustration of personal needs – both emotional and physical.”

“East is East” was completely slapstick in treatment, a cultural satire and comedy of manners in equal part. The sequel, “West is West”, while still being in the broad genre of comedy contends with deeper themes. As an actor how did she walk the fine line between humour and pathos? “I don't think comedy and poignancy are always mutually exclusive. Sometimes the deepest messages can be conveyed through a joke. For instance, in the midst of all the madness there is a very tender scene between Basheera and the English wife played by Linda Bassett. How two women with a major conflict of interest (being married to the same man), no common language or cultural references manage to connect brings out our shared humanity. How George Khan comes face to face with his transgressions is another intense part of the film,” she says.

Ila expects that it is this approach of depicting characters in all their human fragility (without being preachy) that will resonate with Indian audiences. The film has already had a fairly successful run in Britain. A Pakistani release looks unlikely at the moment but she hasn't lost hope. Clearly Ila still has a bit of Basheera in her.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 12:27:22 PM |

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