Brick Lane and East is East

Of the films I’ve watched recently have been a couple which address similar themes – those to do with the life of British Asians.

I bought Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane around a year ago, in the process of being snagged by a crafty bookseller’s 3 for 2 promotion. The book has since sat on my bookshelf, as yet unread in a queue of similarly ignored, but no doubt worthwhile, literature. When Brick Lane recently opened in the cinema, I swallowed my guilt about the unread book and took my seat to watch this wonderful film. What a joy.

Carefully put together, the story seemed to bring together several themes – love, family, race, religion and London being the most evident. A young woman from Bangladesh marries a man unknown to her and moves to London, where she becomes part of east London’s significant Bangladeshi community. Many of Brick Lane’s observations are complex and worrying, but there are nuggets of joy and comedy which add a lot of depth to this lovely story.

I will certainly be dusting off that book.

Then, sorting through some DVDs the other day, I found myself in possession of another, very different, film addressing the lives of British Asians.

East is East is a cheeky comedy. Set exactly thirty years prior to the bulk of Brick Lane’s narrative, it tells the story of a Pakistani man and his English wife who married in 1946 and brought up seven children. The Khan family, of Salford, have been testing out the reality of multiculturalism long before it became the norm for our cities. Throughout the film, we see the young Khans walking the tightrope between the expectations of their father and the realities of the English society in which they are growing up. In most cases, we see their challenges through the medium of comedy, but East is East is not afraid to show some upsetting, sometimes even violent scenes, especially when dealing with the father’s attempts to maintain a traditional authority over his wife and children.

It was plain to see how, though different in many ways, these films were very similar in others. They may not share the same approach – Brick Lane was a touching drama while East is East borders on the slapstick, especially in its last few scenes – but they both have something to say about our country and the compromises faced by many of our citizens. Both films show that life is never simple.

Brick Lane and East is East. Very different. A little similar. Both good.

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