Release date: February 25th 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 102 minutes
Director: Andy De Emmony ¦ Writer: Ayub Khan-Din
Cast: Aqib Khan, online Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Ila Arun, Emil Marwa, Jimi Mistry
Leslee Udwin, producer of East Is East (1999) and West Is West (2010) continues her chat with us.
We’ve so far talked about the making of the first film in Part 1 but now we ask about choosing a director, the casting process and what it was like putting together a film during a recession.
PATRICK: What was it about Andy De Emmony’s previous work that helped you decide this was the director for West Is West?
LESLEE: It’s mind-blowingly difficult to find directors who are good at comedy. Andy had a long and successful history with television comedy yet never directed a film before, but then Damien had never directed a film before when I gave him the job for East Is East. Damien had done one short which had absolutely the style that Ayub and I were looking for. With Andy, it wasn’t so much that we saw something of his which had that style, but we certainly saw that he had comic sensibilities through his television work.
PATRICK: The film was put into motion just at the time the recession hit; did this have a knock-on effect for you?
LESLEE: Major effect! It was the worst time I can remember for trying to raise finance for a film. I thought people were going to fall over themselves to do it but money was scarce; companies were closing down left, right and centre. The traditional film financing companies were hyper cautious, much more so than ever been before. Even in a good climate they tend to be very conservative. They tend to think the formulas to follow are those American films where you shove in big names, shove them on the poster and they do all the work. Well that’s nonsense!
How many films have we seen with massive names and genre formulas that have simply flopped? Audiences are far more intelligent than distributors give them the benefit of the doubt for. They’re much more discerning and hungry for things which are distinctive, original and fresh, but try persuading people who are sizing down, making cuts and getting more and more cautious and conservative of that…you can’t.
Thank God for BBC Films! They came in with a good robust investment of around 38% of our budget. For the rest, I had to go to individuals and I’ve never had to do that before. But that is where East Is East’s pedigree made a difference because I was able to go to people who were high net-worth individuals, not necessarily those who had funded films before, but they loved East Is East. It took about six months.
PATRICK: How lucky were you in finding Aqib to play Sajid?
LESLEE: That was pure luck. The last thing we were looking for was what this actor would look like. When you have a film that is mostly carried by a young, 14 year old kid who has to have a particular accent and colouring, the last thing you think about is what the kid looks like. There was nothing about how he would look in the brief. We just thought we’re seeing everybody who their drama teachers and school principals said were talented or interested in acting and of that age group with that accent because we knew we couldn’t burden the kid with learning an accent as well as carrying a film and learning how to act.
We went only to the north of England to schools…Bradford, Manchester, Leeds, and we saw about 230 kids. Akib was the last kid to come to the last audition. I’m not religious or I would say that was straight from God but I could become religious because he’s so brilliant! One of the things he mentioned to us at the audition was that he was constantly stopped in the streets and told “You’re Sajid from East Is East!” because he used to wear a Parker! So it was a great lucky gift to us.
PATRICK: What was it like having Emil Marwa and Lesley Nicol and Jimi Mistry together with Linda and Om again?
LESLEE: A hoot! They really are like a family and they’ve maintained the closest relations over these past 10 years. Very frustrating that Jimi isn’t in it more but it’s so admirable and heroic of him because actors of his standing usually say “Well I only play big roles, sorry I’m not coming in to do this scene, are you insane?!” but he didn’t, he said “This is my family. East Is East gave me my career and of course I’ll do it”.
In an early draft, he was a much bigger character. What we found was that Tariq and Sajid were performing the same function, and it was taking away from the boy’s journey. We had to have a very tight focus. Especially since the film elides into George’s journey. It starts off and you think it’s Sajid’s but it becomes George’s so we already had two anchors of focus on who were coming of age, we couldn’t have Tariq as well.
It was great also to be able to bring in two of the original actors from the stage play of East Is East. Nadim Sawalha who plays Pir Naseem, the sufi, had played Geroge in the stage play of East Is East and Zita Sattar, had played the daughter. It was between her and Archie Panjabi and it was at the last minute that Archie got the job, so it was wonderful to be able to have a role for her in the film.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .