UMA DA CUNHA | 29 NOVEMBER, 2015
'For Here Or To Go'? A Debut Film That Touches An 'Aamir Khan' Nerve
Still from Movie For Here or to Go?
When screened earlier this month at Jio MAMI’s Discovering India section, newcomer Rucha Humnabadkar’s debut film touched a raw nerve: ‘For Here Or To Go’. To Go?’ is Americanese for Take Away food. At a public event this month, Aamir Khan quoted and justified his wife Kiran Rao’s remark, given current events, should they worry about staying on in India or go?
The remark and Aamir’s echoing it tipped an avalanche of criticism and hate mail. Later, he wondered publicly whether this did not indeed justify Kiran’s remark, which had nothing to do with nationality. She was thinking of the future for her children.
Humnabadkar’s ‘For Here Or To Go?’ resonated well with its festival audience. It is about an aspiring Indian tech entrepreneur Vivek Pandit, working in California’s Silicon Valley. He is set to get a plum job when his employers learn that his visa is about to expire. He then battles a bizarre American immigration system for a chance to stay. Returning to India becomes tempting but is tempered by his caring for an Indian-American girl. He also sees his roommates struggling to stay on in the US. A subplot follows a well-placed Indian businessman (Keith Stevenson) who is all for the American way of life. He argues against his business partner (Rajit Kapur) who has written a book advocating the prospects within India.
This contemporary story of ambition and ambivalence fueled by immigration status characterizes the dilemma of young people amid cultural displacement. India-born Rucha moved to San Francisco twelve years ago and now lives there.
A different take on the same issue was the French film ‘Young Tiger’ directed by Cyprian Vial. It was screened at the 46th International Film Festival of India, Goa (IFFI). A scared17- year-old boy named Many is newly arrived in Paris with other illegal immigrants from the Punjab. His attempts at studying and finding an emotional base are threatened by his parents expecting regular money back home. Many neglects his classes and eventually gets entangled in illegal immigration. Caught in this turmoil, Many has to decide the course his life must take.
The 2015 Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, ‘Deepan’ directed by noted French director Jacques Audiard, showed how a disillusioned Tamil LTTE man struggles and succeeds in gaining asylum in Paris. To improve his chances, he acquires ‘family’ of an unknown woman and a child. But in Paris he is once again caught in a life-threatening crossfire. The film ends with his acceptance of his Tamil wife and child as a family.
Prashant Nair’s film ‘Umrika’, in competition at Jio MAMI, also sees a couple in a village lose their elder son to his wish to go beyond his closeted life and enjoy the expansiveness of America. His escape route sees him mired in Mumbai’s mean streets.
The Canadian film “Khoya” directed by Sami Khan, looks at an adopted Indian settled in Canada who, on losing his foster mother, feels marooned and returns to India to search for his biological parents. In doing so, he encounters an agency dealing with forged procedures and enters a dark space of self-discovery.
To wind slightly back to the Aamir Khan-Kiran Rao story, it is routine for the better-off in India, middle-class and above, to educate and settle their children abroad. Among the well-placed elderly in big cities, it is a safe guess that a good majority of their progeny live and earn abroad. It would be interesting – even revealing – to make a study of how many offspring of Indian bureaucrats and politicians have chosen to make their lives and home in another country.
Diaspora and nationalism becomes a new and lively issue in today’s global world. India has the world’s second-largest diaspora spread across every major region, after overseas Chinese, according to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.
In a listing dated January 2015, MOIA lists NRIs as numbering 11,379,746 and PIOs as 17,075,280 (http://moia.gov.in/writereaddata/pdf/Population_Overseas_Indian.pdf ). The figures add up to a total of close to 30 million (not including the hoards of illegal immigrants). These millions have over decades sought and fought for a life abroad in a country other than their own. Are they therefore anti-national? Are they not permitted to make a choice of where to live?
In a swiftly changing world perspective, the jingoistic outrage over Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao verges on the absurd.