George (Om Puri), who is Pakistani, marries Ella (Linda Bassett) and they settle down in Manchester to have seven children and run a fish and chips shop called George’s English Chippy.
As the movie opens in 1971, George returns unexpectedly from the mosque just as Ella and the children are marching in a church parade. George stops to watch, not seeing his family scurry down a side street. It is important to George that his children adopt the religion and customs of Pakistan, and it becomes even more urgent for him as events make him feel helpless and threatened. First, his oldest son, Nazir objects to an arranged marriage and bolts in the middle of the wedding ceremony. Second, it seems that in all the family chaos, they have neglected to have their youngest son circumcised. They belatedly take care of that, and the pain and humiliation lead the child to hide inside his parka, the hood covering his head and much of his face 24 hours a day. Third, India is at war with Pakistan, and George’s fear of the loss of his homeland and culture makes him even more concerned about passing on that culture to his children.
Ella will not let the children criticize their father. They go to the mosque, grudgingly, but they feel like Brits and only one of the seven wants to live according to Pakistani traditions. The others want the freedom of Western culture — to go to discos, study art, play soccer, eat pork sausage, and date whomever they want. They may feel English, but they look Pakistani, and George fears that the culture they want will never accept them. His neighbors support a politician named Enoch Powell who is calling for repatriation of foreigners. But George and the neighbor do not know that their children are romantically involved.
George becomes more rigid. He arranges marriages for two other sons, without consulting his wife. Finally, he becomes abusive, his frustration exploding into violence against his family.
This award-winning movie is based on the experiences of its author. The family moments, beautifully performed by the entire cast, have a tragi-comic authenticity. When George’s rage finally shatters the family’s fragile compromises, the movie struggles to recover.
Parents should know that the movie has very strong language, bathroom scenes, explicit sexual references, including depiction of male and female genitals, sexual situations, and severe wife and child abuse.
Families who see the movie should talk about the cultural heritages that are important to them and how they balance that with the pressure to assimilate. They should also talk about how husbands and wives from different backgrounds create a home that respects both of them, and how people sometimes live with compromises that may seem intolerable to others. Families who like this movie will also like “Mississippi Masala,” about a romance between an Indian woman and a black man.