Ayub Khan-Din was born in 1961 and grew up in Salford, Manchester.
After leaving school he worked briefly as a hairdresser before enrolling in drama school, where he wrote his first stage play, East is East (1997), for Tamasha Theatre Company. An autobiographical story of a mixed-race family growing up in an overcrowded terraced house in a white, working-class area of Salford in the early 1970s, it was first staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London and subsequently adapted (by the author) into a highly successful feature film. His second play, Last Dance at Dum Dum (1999), concerns the septugenarian members of the dwindling Anglo-Indian community in Calcutta, still clinging tightly to their old imperial past.
Notes on Falling Leaves (2004) was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in 2004, and his play, Rafta Rafta (2007), a comic adaptation of Bill Naughton's 1960s story, All in Good Time, won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2008. A film of Rafta Rafta is currently in production.
His latest works are the screenplay for West is West, the sequel to East is East, which picks up the story four years later and All in Good Time (2012). West is West opened in British Cinemas in 2011.
Ayub Khan-Din also works as an actor, and has appeared in many films including My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.
In his two plays to date, Ayub Khan-Din has depicted the struggles of individuals to come to terms with their conflicting cultural legacies.
His highly acclaimed East Is East (1997), successfully adapted by Khan-Din himself for the screen in 1999, focuses on a mixed-race Anglo-Pakistani family living in a working class neighbourhood of Salford in the 1970s at the time of the India-Pakistan conflict and Enoch Powell’s policy of repatriation. His second work, Last Dance at Dum Dum (1999), which was less successfully received, centres on a group of elderly Anglo-Indians living in the decaying colonial house of Dum Dum in Calcutta in the 1980s. The two mixed groups in Din’s plays become obvious targets of racists and nationalists, British in East is East and Hindu in Last Dance at Dum Dum, but also suffer from the precarious balance that their hyphenated identity entails.
East Is East is decidedly autobiographical. When all the historical events which form the play background were happening, 'I was living in a parka' Khan-Din claimed in an interview, thus identifying with the youngest character of the play, Satjid, who is inseparable from this item of clothing. In the same interview, the playwright maintained that the characters of the parents were modelled directly on his own parents and that the main issues and relationships were all very similar to his background. Such autobiographical claims not only lend authenticity to the story, but also provide the author with a shield from criticism: 'I'm sure people will have some criticism about how I portray my father. But at the end of the day, I'm portraying my father, he's not a Pakistani everyman. To a certain extent, this is a man who abandoned his culture and married an English woman, and then decided that his children should marry Pakistanis. So you know, there was huge hypocrisy there. I made a point of not going to any Q&A sessions after the play because I didn't want to have to start justifying what I'd written. It was a personal story. I wasn't writing about any specific community, I was writing about my father.' The play portrays the conflicts between George Khan, an autocratic Pakistani father who believes that he can transplant the traditions of his mother country to Britain, his English wife and their seven children who, having been raised in the West, reject their father’s belief that they will find their happiness in the social, religious and cultural conventions of the East. The children consider themselves as English, not as 'Pakis', and have no intention of marrying within their father’s ethnic group. The text reaches its dramatic climax when Khan arranges the marriages of two of his sons without telling them. This further tears his wife between devotion to her husband and the commitment to her children’s happiness. Thus, through its plot development, the play addresses issues which are still strongly felt in our contemporary society such as arranged marriages, the status of women and gender difference, the conflict between Christian and Muslim beliefs and the challenges to both coming from the forces of secularisation. Paradoxically, George Khan, the first not to follow his own orthodox principles, claims, in the words of cultural studies scholar Paul Gilroy, identity not 'as an ongoing process of self-making and social interaction', but as 'a thing to be possessed and displayed'. For him, identity becomes 'a silent sign that closes down the possibility of communication across the gulf between one heavily defended island of particularity and its equally well fortified neighbours, between one national encampment and others' (Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race, 2000).
Last Dance at Dum Dum returns to the problems of people torn between their past traditions and their present cultural and historical settings, though the action shifts from 1970s Salford to 1980s Calcutta when Hindu fundamentalism was taking hold of Indian society. The characters of the play are a group of elderly and lonely Anglo-Indians living in a decaying colonial house, a locale which mirrors their physical and spiritual condition. Permanently plagued by financial problems, the tenants are increasingly unable to pay their rent to Mr. Chakravatty, the landlord and Hindu extremist who is planning to evict them from his property to turn it into a holy site. Chakravatty claims that Lord Krishna himself stumbled upon a rock in the garden and he thus wants to build a temple for the god. With eviction looming upon them, the Anglo-Indians decide to sublet a room to a wealthy British woman, Lydia, and to organize a last dance which will remind them of their glorious imperial days. Their actions prove to be of little solace for them. Their first decision brings them more tensions than money as they feel resentful towards the British for their present plight and take this out on Lydia. As for the dance, it never takes place as Chakravatty provokes a riot against his tenants. Ultimately, however, the fundamentalist landlord becomes a victim of his own behaviour as the mob turns against him as well. Last Dance at Dum Dum is almost unanimously considered a disappointing second play. In spite of its irony and witty moments, the plot is sometimes confusing and inconsequential. In addition, while the text is potentially challenging in its attempt to portray a group of people rejected by two cultures, the characterisation of the Anglo-Indians has been exposed as relying too much on the stereotypes typical of colonial British fiction such as hysteria and powerlessness.
Although it is through different events and settings, Last Dance at Dum Dum confronts the same themes as East Is East. In both plays, characters struggle to find a balance between two cultures to neither of which they fully belong. Both plays present the dangers of losing one’s identity and tradition through hybridity, but stress that separation is not a viable solution. Ayub Khan-Din recognises, to follow Paul Gilroy’s formulation, that identity, far from being a fixed category, can become a problem in itself. In his two texts, the playwright has dramatized the difficulties and tensions that arise when 'people seek to calculate how tacit belonging to a group or community can be transformed into more active styles of solidarity, when they debate where the boundaries around a group should be constituted and how – if at all – they should be enforced' (Between Camps:Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race, 2000).
Luca Prono, 2004