East Is East

East Is East (1996) overview

Ayub Khan Din based his debut play East Is East on his own childhood in Salford. Like the characters in the play, Khan Din comes from a large family with a Pakistani father and a white mother.

Set in the 1970s in Salford, the play is dominated by the character of George Khan, known as ‘Genghis’ to his six kids. George is a proud Pakistani man, but he is also volatile and, at times, violent. He’s married to Ella, a white British woman – though he has a Pakistani wife he keeps threatening to bring over to England – and together they run a chip shop.

Khan Din’s play explores the various ways the Khan children negotiate their identity as British Asians, whether through sneakily eating bacon and sausages, rejecting their father’s diktats on clothing and religion, or refusing to learn Urdu. Only Maneer is obedient, but this does not spare him his father’s fists.

George is a devout Muslim, and wants to force his sons into arranged marriages. He is ashamed to discover that another son, parka-wearing Sajit, hasn’t been circumcised.

When oldest son Nazir realises his dad plans to arrange his marriage, he runs away from home. This is too much for George. Later Nazir comes out as gay. George sets about arranging marriages for two of his other sons, despite the fact that one of them already has a girlfriend.

Ella urges her husband to listen to his children, but he dismisses her appeals and there are scenes in which he beats her. Their children struggle with this and want to shift the balance of power between their parents. In the end, after another beating, she throws him out of their home.

Central to the play is the political and cultural background of 1970s Salford, the incendiary speeches of Enoch Powell and the war between East and West Pakistan.

Key productions of East Is East

Before writing East Is East Khan Din trained as an actor and worked on stage and screen in the 1980s and 1990s (playing Sammy in Stephen Frears and Hanif Kureishi’s Sammy and Rosie Get Laid). The play opened in Birmingham, before transferring to the Royal Court in London, a co-producer of the original production. A film version of the play was released in 1999 starring a number of the original cast members, including Linda Bassett and Jimi Mistry, with Om Puri taking on the role of George. A sequel, West Is West, was released in 2011, also written by Khan Din.

A West End revival of the play directed by Sam Yates opened in 2014, starring Jane Horrocks as Ella and Khan Din himself as George. Another major revival, a Northern Stage and Nottingham Playhouse co-production, opened in early 2017.

Related articles

Revisiting East Is East

Article by:
Sarfraz Manzoor
20th-century theatre, Exploring identity

The play East is East, first performed in 1996 and adapted as a film in 1999, explores the lives of a Pakistani immigrant, his British wife and their children in 1970s Salford. Sarfraz Manzoor considers how far attitudes towards Asian immigrants have changed since the 1970s, and recounts his own changing response to East is East over the past two decades.

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