Release date: February 25th 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 102 minutes
Director: Andy De Emmony ¦ Writer: Ayub Khan-Din
Cast: Aqib Khan, Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Ila Arun, Emil Marwa, Jimi Mistry
In the third and concluding part of our interview with Leslee Udwin we talk about what it was like filming in India, what plans there are for another sequel and the casting of Ila Arun as Basheera, Geroge Khan’s first wife.
The music in the film is another area we discussed as it comes across beautifully in the film.
PATRICK: The story takes place in Pakistan, but it wasn’t filmed there was it?
LESLEE: We couldn’t do it because the insurances which you have to have in place when you make a film wouldn’t even consider the idea. One road closure and we’d lose a day filming at least.
It didn’t bother me because I hate borders and stereotypes, for me India and Pakistan are one country. There’s just an artificial border from 1947, there’s an Indian Punjab and a Pakistani Punjab and they’re identical.
PATRICK: Was it a challenge to film in India?
LESLEE: In India they spend many more days shooting than we do. We shot this in 36 days; Indian films very often shoot in 100 days. They also carve up their schedules depending on their actors’ availability so they have big gaps in between filming days. We have to do it all at once because time is money.
But every challenge was worth meeting and we came out without a day over schedule and on budget but that’s really because I did wield the whip to a certain extent. We had to sack some people and make hurtful and upsetting decisions but it was absolutely crucial to come out of there and not be over budget.
The compensating factor was that it was magical shooting there. You get a warmth, support and generosity from people, particularly in the Punjab, that is unparalleled. In England people were very cynical about wanting to use a house to film in, or having to put up with crews. They get fed up and unwelcoming. We were constantly stopped to be given food and tea, we were hosted as though we were family and that was utterly amazing to me.
PATRICK: What else of the magic of India did you encounter?
LESLEE: There was one day I went back with a cameraman during the edit to get some landscape shots which we needed as transitions for after the storm…movements in the grasses and trees to show the storm was dying down.
The day we went to shoot this was the stillest, hottest day imaginable. There was no way a single thing was going to move so I said to our location manager “How do you say in Hindi, please God give us a wind?” He taught me the phrase and I started chanting and I know it sounds ridiculous and naive but help me God I am not exaggerating – the shots are in the film – the grasses started moving, and a wind came from nowhere.
It lasted just enough for us to film and then it died down!
PATRICK: I was very much taken with the performance by Ila Arun who plays Basheera, can you tell me about her audition?
LESLEE: She’s one of the most glamorous and famous singers in India and she came dressed as a Punjabi woman and learnt all of her lines in Punjabi – she made me weep when she read the scenes! It was obvious that she was the one. I’ve seldom seen an actress work so hard and be so dedicated. She’s utterly brilliant and has a depth and integrity that is a gift.
PATRICK: For the soundtrack, Rob Lane and Shankar Ehsaan Loy were hired, how did you find them and what was it you wanted them to bring to the film with their music?
LESLEE: The director and I felt that as far as the score of the film was concerned, we needed both East and West sensibilities. For the authentic energy and character of the Asian composed soundtrack, Shankar Ehsaan Loy were obvious candidates but we didn’t think we’d ever be able to afford them!
Luckily, they fell head over heels in love with the script and we got on really well when we met and they committed to the film. They’ve composed 4 wonderful pieces specially for the film.
Rob Lane is one of the UK’s most talented composers – I worked with him on my last film and am a massive fan of his work. All his scores are utterly distinct and particular to the particular film he’s scoring – he gets under the skin of the characters and finds the deepest expressions for the significant moments in their journey, and also has real ‘wit’ in his music, which is rare.
PATRICK: The wedding scene which was beautifully done. What was the setting up and filming like for this?
LESLEE: In fact, originally, the wedding scene was conceived very differently… The director had in mind a sort of montage of stills and the shoot was set up with that plan in mind. Luckily we had shot enough coverage for the sequence to reconceive it in the edit, because in fact when we got to that point in the story we ultimately felt that we needed to FEEL the high, celebratory energy in an extended live sequence in a visceral way. The highly stylised sequence which was originally conceived didn’t yield the emotional, uplifitng release that the film cried out for at that point (after the deeply affecting scenes between the 2 wives and George and Ella). That often happens in the editing process, when the film has its own new identity and makes its own demands.
PATRICK: Are there any plans for a third part?
LESLEE: Yes, Ayub and I have started discussing part 3. We will wait a while before committing and see how West is West goes. If it’s successful, then we will definitely embrace the last part of the trilogy. I would guess we’d be ready to film it in about 2 years’ time. It will be set back in England.
PATRICK: And finally, what is the one thing you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing West Is West?
LESLEE: Ultimately I would hope they would be touched by the heart and spirit of the film. I hope the film promotes tolerance, and a realisation that our stories are all the same wherever we come from. The narrative of the film brings 2 apparently separate worlds together with the understanding and generosity of spirit that I would wish for the increasingly divided world we live in.
I think West is West offers the chance to understand people better. All people. All over the world. A film has to be specific to be persuasive and believable, but for me the best films soar above their specific details and contain truths about humankind.
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 .