What happens before an immigrant makes the decision to leave his home country for good? Find out by watching this indie drama, which will actually show you a lot more about India than the protagonist's dream destination America (Umrika in Hindi)…
Umrika (Hindi for “America”) tells the story of Ramakant (Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi). After his older brother Udai went off to work in America, the little Indian home village of both brothers eagerly awaits his letters from the new world. But when the letters cease to arrive one day, Ramakant decides to leave the village himself to find out what happened to his brother…
While figuring out how to find his brother, Rampant himself considers immigrating to the US. Thus, he works several jobs in order to save enough money and one day fulfill his Amercian dream…
Umrika was shot exclusively in India on purpose as director Prashant Nair told me in our interview: "I wanted to make sure that there was not a single shot of America in the film. Most scenes were shot in Mumbai and about three hours in the countryside just outside of Mumbai where we created the village."
A whole village re-created from scratch
Quite amazingly the village of Ramakant and Udai was re-created especially for the film. "The reason for that is that back then the materials that were used to build a village were very different compared to now," says Nair. "The village we created is made out of materials like hay, mud and clay. Nowadays there are much more plastics and it’s hard to find a village that’s still like the villages of that era."
Nair really enjoyed shooting in the Indian countryside: "The air was so fresh, everywhere you looked there were wonderful mountains and sunsets. We also had an amazing crew and it just felt like we were a big, happy family."
Just as in Life of Pi, Suraj Sharma as Ramakant proves that he is an amazing talent to watch out for. So is Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), who portrays Ramakant's best friend who is going with him to Mumbai. Revolori is actually a US citizen of Guatemalan decent. Therefore, it's all the more impressive that he took on the role of Indian guy talking in Hindi.
I thought that it was quite brave in general to make a film for Western audiences that is entirely in Hindi. Just like the film's director said it, this film is about the journey of an immigration BEFORE he decides to leave his home country – and that's very rarely seen in cinema or on TV.
"Don't just see the statistics, see the stories behind."
Just as important as the performance is the message of this film. "My main goal was for audiences to be able to relate to the characters," says Nair. "I think it’s amazing if we watch characters that are in a completely different world to ours, but in the end we realize that we have a lot more in common than we originally thought. I also wanted to tell the story of one particular immigrant. We often just see the statistics and forget that there are very personal and unique stories behind those numbers."
My verdict: A film that really makes you think about the people behind the statistics and our own freedom.
**** 4 out of 5 stars
What are your experiences with immigration and immigrants? Perhaps you moved to a different country yourself? Join the discussion in the comments below!