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“East is East”: Jimi Mistry Interview

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., April 20, 2000 — Jimi Mistry couldn’t be happier.

The 26-year-old London resident was taking in his first press junkets after stepping off the plane in his first trip to America to promote his first featured role in “East is East.” To top it off, he’d just learned that the film was awarded the British Academy Film Award for outstanding British Film of the Year.

“It started off so small and against all adversity,” Mistry marveled. “We had problems funding this film. … People on paper would not be necessarily interested in a small, low-budget British film predominantly about an Asian culture.”

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And “East is East” is that, a comedy directed by Damien O’Donnell about a biracial family in the 1970s dealing with clashing cultures. The Pakistani father (Om Puri) arranges everything from trips to the mosque to their futures. Mistry plays Tariq, who moves up in the relational ranks of seven children when his older brother Nazir (Ian Aspinall) runs away in the middle of his arranged ceremony and is declared “dead” to their father. Tariq, a fun-loving teen, avoids responsibility by sneaking out at night to party at clubs and pursue romance with local British girls, often taking along younger brother Abdul (Raji James).

But their father reacts to their shenanigans by tightening his fist even more, and when Tariq and Abdul learn that marriages have been arranged for them, they spearhead a rebellion to win the right to lead their own lives while their British mother (Linda Bassett) looks on in amusement and concern.

It’s a role Mistry was literally born to play. His father is Hindu Indian, his mother Catholic Irish. Raised in Manchester, England, Mistry found himself encountering many of Tariq’s dilemmas.

“It was more to do with Catholicism and my mother,” Mistry explains. “I didn’t have to go to the mosque or the temple because my dad never put that on us, but I was expected to go to church … and I had no problem with that. But when I got to my late teens, I wanted to take the shackles off and find what I actually wanted to do, try to find my identity — try to find what it was that I wanted to be, a lot like Tariq. I did a lot of similar things and soon after a while I’d skip Mass and skip church and went to bars and discos, had girlfriends.”

Mistry got his start on television, playing Dr. Fonseca on the British soap opera “Eastenders.” After more television roles, his first feature opportunity came with a tiny role in Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” in 1996.

While “East is East” proved a tough shoot, including the filming of scenes where Mistry and others urinate, then vomit, in a metal bucket. But the cast’s warmth overcame the cold, wet weather of England.

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“We had the best, best, best time we’ve ever had,” Mistry says. “Can you imagine, it’s like you and your family, and you make a film together, and you’re best friends. … I have two sisters in real life but I have no brothers, so these are the brothers I’ve never had.”

Mistry positively beams as he says these words, seemingly amazed that a film experience could be so fulfilling and profitable at the same time.

“I was there at the very beginning. It only cost at the most 2.5 million pounds, and … it became the biggest fully British-funded British film ever. It won these awards … and now I’m in L.A. talking to you about this now.”

Did we mention he couldn’t be happier?

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