A Pakistani In London

A sensitive film about immigrants searching for an identity.

In keeping with the recent trend of movies about ex-patriates searching for their identity, this movie deals with the trials of a Pakistani family in the England of the '70s.

The movie is all about Zahir ("George") Khan (Om Puri), a hard core Pakistani, and his attempts to instill his children (six boys and one girl) with the same values, aided by his British wife, Ella (Linda Bassinet). The trend of the movie is set in the opening scenes where George prepares his eldest son, Nazir, for a traditional style wedding, from which he runs away. The focus then shifts to the other kids and their ways of circumventing Dad's fanaticism. The kids, in an attempt to break away, do varied things like eating ham to drinking alcohol to going to disco's. Whilst Tariq, the next eldest, is flirting around with his neighbour Stella, George goes and gets him and his brother Abdul engaged to some pretty ugly girls, in order to keep the faith. The news is inadvertently discovered by the youngest son Sajid , who goes through life wearing a hooded parka, who reveals it to the rest.

All hell breaks loose and the action picks up drastically. Tariq destroys the finery bought for the wedding; a subsequently enraged George beats up his wife and his quietest son, Muneer; Tariq, another younger brother and their sister run away to Nazir who finally brings them back. The final climax comes when the prospective in-laws visit the Khan household and the showdowns that then occur.

The story is very well told and sensitively dealt with. The difficulties of preserving an identity and searching for a new one are very well brought out by the different characters. The movie is also very humorous, what with the natural by-play between the siblings. Also, there are a few interesting episodes which highlight the extent of community feeling. In one such case, the family is out to see a movie and the owner of the theatre, who is their relative, stops the present movie and starts one of their choice. Also, in small ways, it manages to make the viewer aware of the difficulties of living in a partisan England and hints at the subtle racism.

Though there are so many characters, they all manage to make an impact, whether because of their brashness (as in Tariq's case) or because of their level-headedness (as in Abdul's case). Om Puri turns in yet another brilliant performance as the rigid yet loving father who can't understand why his children can't understand him. The viewer is forced to both sympathise and get angry with him and with a few of the others who deliberately act stubborn.

The production and direction deserve full marks. The crisp fitting in of various incidents do not jar but instead highlight the underlying story. The mood is accentuated with small things like the background music, which is a mixture of old Hindi songs and '70s pop. A great deal of care is given to see that the characters appear believable, which probably accounts for their constant swearing with delightful appellations given to each other.

In the final result, the movie comes across as sensitive, yet hilarious. The different characters and the by-play between them make this a very enjoyable film. Definitely worth seeing.

This article was first published on 12 Jul 2000.