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NRI films: In search of variety

NRI cinema is finally on the verge of a major breakthrough, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2006 15:27 IST
Saibal Chatterjee | WIDE ANGLE
Saibal Chatterjee | WIDE ANGLE

The trials and tribulations of members of the Indian expatriate community struggling to come to terms with the pressures of life in an alien land and culture has for long provided NRI filmmakers in the US, UK and Canada their primary thematic inspiration.

However, rarely has a filmmaker of the generation after Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta quite been able to surprise us - and the world - with the uniqueness and precision of his or her insight.

Barring stray exceptions, the NRI film genre has been found wanting both in terms of artistic value and commercial impact, and we are still waiting for a cinematic work that will define this stream of moviemaking for good and catapult it into the global big league.


 Rahul Bose will be seen in ad filmmaker Rajiv Virani's The Whisperers

Numerous simplistic takes on the intrinsically complex immigrant experience have found their way to movie screens around the globe over the past decade or so. Some of these films have, at best, aroused mild curiosity, but none of them has achieved the cult status of a

My Big Fat Greek Wedding


Eat Drink Man Woman


Trouble has stemmed primarily from the inability of NRI filmmakers to rise above the predictable, self-conscious quality of their narratives.

The focus of their films has been rather constricted - it has never gone beyond dysfunctional families, rebellious youngsters, identity crises and relationship woes. What's worse, these issues have rarely been addressed with anything more than a superficial sweep.

There are, however, signs that NRI cinema is finally on the verge of a major breakthrough. A wider variety of themes and concerns are about to burst forth from this segment of moviemaking. To be sure, the positive indications aren't really part of a conscious strategy, but only an offshoot of a chance-directed phenomenon, but, for whatever they are worth, they deserve to be hailed as an important development.

An increasing number of US-trained Indian filmmakers seem to be gathering the courage to turn their attention to themes that are far multifaceted than the love-marriage-sex rigmarole that most such films have hitherto dealt with.

Controversial diamond merchant and film financier Bharat Shah is reported to be in the process of mounting a gay-themed film about a young Indian male who heads for the US of A from Kenya in search of freedom from his over-protective mother - and a better life. He finds success as a banker, but loses himself in a haze of sex, alcohol and drugs.

The proposed film, based on Ode to Lata, a novel by the Kenyan-born Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, is to be directed by Nilanjan Neil Lahiri, a US-based filmmaker who won a Students' Oscar a couple of years ago for Focus, a film about a rape victim.

The interesting thing about Ode to Lata is that the producer has no intention of releasing it in India - it is being designed as a purely international film meant solely for global distribution.

The New York-based Manish Gupta is ready with Karma, Confessions and Holi, while a UK Indian ophthalmologist Nikhil Kaushik has turned filmmaker to capture the reality of the lives of doctors in Britain in Bhavishya - The Future.

Taranjeet Singh, erstwhile assistant to the likes of Rajiv Rai and Aditya Chopra, has wrapped up It Could Be You, the real life-inspired story of a first-generation Indian immigrant in Southall who wins a jackpot only to find himself at the receiving end of the avarice of his own family.

Ad filmmaker Rajiv Virani is directing the Rahul Bose-scripted The Whisperers, a psychological drama involving two strong-willed men pitted against each other in the confines of a room.

Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn and Cosmopolitan) and Varun Khanna (Beyond Honour and American Blend) also seem to be on way to establishing themselves as authentic Indian voices on the immigrant cinema scene in the US.

Films like Kal Ho Naa Ho and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna present popcorn, lopsided, larger-than-life versions of the lives of Indian immigrants in the Big Apple. It is heartening to see that a band of young filmmakers, away from the corrupting influence of the Bollywood mainstream, are chipping away quietly to restore a bit of the balance.

First Published: Aug 11, 2006 00:00 IST