Rediff.com's Arthur J Pais reports from the Toronto International Film Festival.
Do you know who you really are? The way the angry woman asks the question in the movie West Is West and the way her gaze penetrates the husband who abandoned her and their daughters 30 years ago creates one of the most dramatic and chilling scenes in recent cinema. "Are you George or Jehangir?" she taunts him.
Later, she has an unexpected meeting with the British woman who is the second wife of Jehangir Khan, who after leaving Pakistan for the United Kingdom, has taken the name of George Khan.
In yet another chilling but also heartmelting scene which takes place in a rural area of Pakistan, the abandoned wife who does not know a word of English tells the British woman, who has no knowledge of Urdu, about her abandonment. As she speaks in Punjabi, the woman also makes appropriate signs to tell George Khan's British wife that George has long since stopped belonging to her (the first wife).
There was hushed silence as the audiences watched Ila Arun, the abandoned wife, conjure a magical performance in film, produced by BBC, which had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last week.
To match -- or for that matter even exceed -- the superlative performance of Om Puri is no small achievement. But Ila Arun has done so and she stuns the audiences with her awesome performance. Many journalists were asking their South Asian peers about Ila Arun at the end of the well-received screening of West Is West. "She could outperform the best classic British artists," said one.
If there is any justice, they should roll out the red carpet for Om Puri and Ila Arun at the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar nominations.
West Is West is a follow up to the arthouse hit East Is East released about a decade ago. Both films based on autobiographical stories by the scriptwriter Ayub Khan-Din featured Om Puri as the short-tempered immigrant who runs a fish and chips business in a British city. His family consists of his British wife (Linda Bassett), several conflicted and troubled sons.
In the new film, he has brought his youngest son to Pakistan to get him acquainted with a heritage he (the son) doesn't want anything to do with.
East Is East was shot mostly in the United Kingdom. The new film, which has a few scenes shot in Manchester, unfolds against a rural Pakistani background. Much of the dialogue is in Punjabi accompanied by excellent subtitles.
But the film was shot in Chandigarh and the neighbouring areas, with dozens of Indian technicians pitching in. It was made by the first time director, Andy De Emmony who has a rich experience with the British TV. The film's evocative score by Shankar Eshaan Loy is one of its major highlights.
The movie is a worthy successor to East Is East, and could be a hit not only with the disasporic audiences but also the mainstream that have warmed up to films such as Monsoon Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham and The Namesake.
With its broad humour, stirring melodrama and the coming of age story, West Is West proved to be one of the more popular films at the 35th edition of the festival here which is screening over 250 feature films. Some critics complained (correctly, though) there was a bit too much of sitcom to the film. A few also thought the wedding scenes and the festivities had a touristic touch to them.
The Canadian media gave the film a warm welcome too, with The Globe and Mail giving it three stars (out of four).
'Puri is compelling as George,' the newspaper observed, 'a hypocrite who holds his children to standards of conduct he doesn't meet.'
Image: (From left) Actor Om Puri, producer Leslee Udwin, actress Lesley Nicol, director Andy De Emmony, actor Aqib Khan, and chief executive of United International Pictures Stewart Till at the West Is West premiere in Toronto. Photograph: Snaps India