In the funny and irreverent "East Is East," a Pakistani father learns love means never having to wear a sari. 

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"East Is East" is a loving and thoroughly entertaining tribute to growing up and trying to stay centered in the complex multicultural world. Edgy and poignant, this British comedy takes us into the home of an overbearing Pakistani émigré who's stubbornly trying to keep his kids kosher. But in 1971, in the working poor suburb of Salford, Manchester, that is more easily said than done. George Khan's (Om Puri) desire to rear his brood as traditional Muslims is further hampered by the fact that their mother, his second wife, is English. But it's not just his offspring who rebel. His long-suffering wife, Ella (the wonderful Linda Bassett), does all that she can to aid and abet her children in their non-Muslim, pop-culture assimilation. Heads butt, tempers flare and openhanded smacks fly.

As difficult as it may be to comprehend in these oh-so sensitive times, "East Is East" is a very funny, very loving movie about parental and spousal abuse. Bubbling over with life and great characters, it's no wonder the film has taken both Cannes and Great Britain by storm. As we enter George's household, the wrath of Khan is about to be unleashed. It seems that eldest son, Nazir (Ian Aspinall), has bolted from an arranged marriage just as it's about to become official. Knowing he has brought shame on his family, Nazir runs away. George responds by declaring his son "dead" to the family.

To save face and regain his standing within the large Pakistani community, George rushes out and arranges marriages for his handsome second and third sons. But trouble's brewing there as well. Son Tariq (Jimi Mistry) is secretly dating the cute peroxide-blonde next door. Even the usually compliant Abdul (Raji James) has no interest in being tied down to someone his father has picked out. Of course, it doesn't help that the brides-to-be are a pair of outlandishly unattractive but wealthy sisters.

But the mutiny Tariq and Abdul are contemplating pales by comparison to what brother Saleem (Chris Bisson) is up to. Both George and Ella would have a heart attack if they knew what kind of experimental art project he's working on.

Crammed together in cramped quarters without indoor plumbing, the Khan household is approaching cross-cultural critical mass. The more resistance he meets, the more maniacal George becomes as head of the family. Wife Ella is caught in the middle, loving both her husband and her children. Where she once respected George's wishes and accepted his beatings without protest, she now knows she must act.

While much of the movie is hilarious, it does have its serious, painful side. One confrontation between father and son and then mother is ugly and upsetting, as scenes of bullying domestic violence should be. Director Damien O'Donnell, making his feature debut and working from Ayub Khan-Din's script, deftly handles the many slices of life the movie captures and expertly balances the large cast of characters. Sure, George is an ogre, but he's also allowed to be a hoot. O'Donnell understands the need for comic relief, offsetting the movie's more upsetting scenes with ones of gentle and telling humor.

Legendary actor Puri is more than up to the task of making George more than evil incarnate. Last seen as the Indian taxi driver in "My Son the Fanatic," Puri lets us see that George has a gentle soul, despite his ability to terrorize in the name of religious belief. Puri carries off both the farcical and incendiary aspects of George's character without us hating him forever. Subtly, thanks to both O'Donnell and Khan-Din, George becomes a living object lesson for tolerance. It's that kind of humanistic dimension that makes "East Is East" special.


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