Immigrants fight against Indian cinema

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Immigrants fight against Indian cinema

Exploring the identity crises of the Indian diaspora

Bhaji on the Beach follows a group of British Indian women of different ages, bonding around their shared cultural experiences on a day trip

The filmmakers expertly portray the shared experiences of the Indian diaspora around the world and depict how Indian culture transcends geographic boundaries.

The portrayal of the experience of Indian immigrants or the Indian diaspora in cinema has evolved beyond romantic dance sequences shot in beautiful settings. In mainstream and independent films, filmmakers tackle issues such as immigration, the identity crisis, and how nuances of racism still affect new generations of foreign-born Indians.

Some of the most critically acclaimed films that authentically captured this experience have been directed by Mira Nair, an Indo-American director who primarily focuses on films about Indian society for international audiences.

His 2006 film Namesake, starring the late Irrfan Khan, is based on the debut novel of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri, and depicts the hardships of a family’s cross-cultural experiences as they move from Kolkata to suburban New York. The film focuses on teenage protagonist Gogol struggling to fit into a new American culture and increasingly begins to resent his parents for clinging to their Indian customs and traditions. Nair skillfully portrays a reality that many first generation immigrants struggle with.

“I think with the changing political climate, immigration has definitely become a hot topic in art as well. And I think that’s a good thing because it brings her into the mainstream conversation, ”says Ananya Tandon, an Indian-American theater student based in Los Angeles.

Tandon moved to America at the age of 6 and initially struggled to adapt to the changing environment. Mira Nair is one of her favorite female directors and she credits watching some influential Indian films to have helped her come to terms with her cultural identity.

“When I started primary school here, it wasn’t a very diverse environment. I remember when my teacher asked me where I was from, and I said from India, everyone automatically assumed I was talking about a Native American tribe! Even educators sometimes don’t have a lot of conscience, so the fact that movies like these show our stories accurately is really amazing, ”says Tandon.

The Namesake shows how Gogol, an Indo-American immigrant, finally begins to accept his cultural identity

Another production by Mira Nair, Monsoon wedding (2001), has become one of the most critically acclaimed films of his career. Starring Naseeruddin Shah and Lillete Dubey, the film follows a chaotic and typical celebration of the “great Indian wedding” in a large Punjabi family, between Aditi and Hemant, an NRI computer programmer from Houston. Although the festivities take place in Delhi, the characters all arrive from a multitude of countries, which gives an interesting twist to events.

A central scenario deals with how, despite a foreign education, certain traditional Indian mentalities are juxtaposed with supposedly modern lifestyles. The film also addresses sensitive topics often considered taboo in Indian society, such as the sexual abuse of children by a family member. When Ria, the protagonist’s cousin, reveals that Tej, her wealthy uncle from the United States, assaulted her as a child, she is initially berated and humiliated. An emotional turning point in the film is when her family believes her and chases Tej, showing how the family ends up breaking down all barriers.

Monsoon wedding received a Golden Globe nomination and won a Golden Lion award, making Nair the second Indian after Satyajit Ray to do so.

Another film by Nair that addresses cross-cultural assimilation is Mississippi Masala (1991), which explores a rarely described story of an interracial romance between an Indian girl and an African American man, played by Denzel Washington. The female protagonist is a third generation Ugandan Indian who escapes a dictatorship in her home country and migrates to America. His father, Jay, is unable to accept culture shock and becomes suspicious of the people around him.

Gurinder Chadha is another prominent director of Indian origin; his films mainly portray the life of British Indians. His first successful film, Bhaji on the beach (1993) follows a group of Anglo-Punjabi women of different generations who take an excursion to Blackpool beach, where they come to terms with the constraints of their community’s expectations of women, as well as the racism they face as than foreigners in their own country.

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Chadha uses travel “as a means of examining the problems of the British Asian community, where old traditions and new ways create uncomfortable situations.” The contrast between the mentality of teens and younger characters and that of older women reveals how Indian prejudices against interracial dating, divorce, and female empowerment persist even across continents.

It was critically acclaimed upon its release, with Sight and sounds, a British film magazine, commenting that the film had “strong views on the prevalent prejudices and what the younger generation of British-born Asians had to offer.”

Sharma’s character moves to America to fulfill her dream, but faces the harsh reality of a system often stacked against immigrants

The illegal (2019) is an independent film that brilliantly tackles Indian immigration issues. Directed by Danish Renzu and with a cast including Pi’s life Suraj Sharma and Mirzapur Shweta Tripathi, it tells the story of Hassan, who comes to America with the dream of studying cinema, but struggles to keep up due to financial problems, ends up giving up and being forced to work in a restaurant as than illegal immigrant.

Film critic Kshitij Rawat noted that the film illustrates “how the modern world, with its strictly drawn borders and anti-immigration sentiment, has wired us to reduce people to documents.”

The illegal provides a nuanced, realistic but ultimately heartbreaking picture of a man who realizes the American Dream is just an illusion, and how even family can make them feel completely alone when they’re away from home.

The film reached an audience of 1.8 million viewers in just three days after its OTT release and was a big hit in the film festival circuit, winning awards at the Mumbai International Film Festival and the International Film Festival. South Asian film from Vancouver.

These films are incredibly relevant to the Indian audience of NRI and of foreign descent as they authentically demonstrate their struggles and, more importantly, they are told from a native perspective, which is a crucial element missing in South Asian blockbuster movies like Slumdog Millionaire (2008) or even Lion (2016), whom experts have often criticized for showing only a one-sided observation of Indian society. Although Bollywood films are celebrated and watched by Indians all over the world, these experiences may not be universal for those who did not grow up in India, so films like these give Indians a voice like Tandon and educate the public.

“I think when we see movies like Namesake or Bhaji on the beach, every Indo-American kid can understand that there was a point in their life where they refused to accept their ethnicity just to fit in, so it’s really cathartic to see that unfold on screen ” , says Tandon.


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