I met up with Prashant Nair, director of Umrika (2015) and Dehli in a Day (2011), at the Oldenburg Film Festival 2015. In our interview, he told me about how living in a small town in the American Midwest fostered his inner film geek, how he caught the travel bug and why he considers Berlin the perfect place to live…
Why did you choose to make this film?
I grew up the child of a diplomat so we would move to a different place every three years – for instance from Switzerland to Sudan or from Syria to Zambia. Everywhere I moved I was confronted with the stereotypes connected to the place I had just moved from. So in my film I wanted to explore how different cultures look at each other and how stereotypes and images are formed of places that we have actually never been to ourselves.
Why did you choose America or more specifically the US among all places an immigrant could go to?
The story could have been set anywhere really. In North Africa a lot of people are dreaming about going to France, in small towns it’s the big city… I chose to make it America because I think that the US has a strong effect on the world. Everywhere I lived we would be watching Dallas and Hollywood movies. I wanted to examine the idea that any place can be exotic, depending on who is looking at it.
"I thought everything was just like in New York or LA. But then I moved to a very tiny town in the Midwest."
What was your personal experience of living in America like?
Much like in the film, I also created my own image of America before I ever went there myself at the age of 17 in order to study engineering at university. I knew this country through the music and the films I had seen and thought everything was just like in New York or LA. But then I moved to a very tiny town in the Midwest and it really wasn’t like the America I had imagined…
What was that town called?
I studied in West Lafayette in Indiana and afterwards I moved to New York City as soon as I could (laughs).
Why was that?
Well, America can be a very isolated place. I had moved there from Vienna because that’s where I finished High School. When people asked me where I am from they would look at me because I am Indian and wouldn’t really know what to say… In many ways, the village in my movie has the same innocence and naivety that I was confronted with when I first went to America. I don’t mean to offend Americans in any way though. Situations like these happen in all cultures across the globe.
"Berlin has got everything. It's so international, but it also has great German efficiency."
You made Berlin your temporary home once. How was that?
For an artist, Berlin is the perfect city. It’s got enough culture and art, it’s got nightlife, it’s got space, it’s green, it’s not crazy expensive, it’s international and it's also got great German efficiency. In a way you have everything you need, but you're not rushing so much as you would do in New York, Paris or London. I really hope I get to live in Berlin again one day.
You mentioned that you have also been a temporary resident of New York. What did you like about living there?
I loved living in New York. I think in many ways, New York is the centre of the world. It’s got so much energy, art, culture and business at the same time. But what I really loved was the music scene. You could walk across the street and see Jazz legends like Lou Donaldson live! The Jazz scene was great in New York.
"The idea is to pack up your apartment and use the money you would normally spend on rent to go travelling instead."
Where will you travel to next?
After the Oldenburg film festival, I am off to China, then China-London, London-Portugal, Portugal-Turkey, then back to India for a festival, Vietnam…
Oh wow, so you are travelling quite a lot then.
Yes, the idea is to pack up the apartment so you don’t have to pay any rent and use the money you save for travelling instead.
So you didn’t get tired of moving around so much as a kid and having to start everywhere afresh?
I got a bit tired around the age of 15 or so because we moved to a different place every three years. And it wasn’t like moving from Berlin to Paris or Berlin to London. We moved from countries like Syria to Zambia, Zambia to Austria, Sudan to Switzerland. As an adult though, you appreciate this lifestyle more. I think the moving around bit will always be a part of me now. Plus, when it comes to my work and the stories I would like to tell travel is probably the thing that impacts me the most.
Over to you, my dear readers: Who else has caught the travel bug and can't get enough of the "digital nomad" lifestyle?
Film Tip: Learn about an immigrant's journey BEFORE he decides to immigrate in Prashant Nair's India-set indie film Umrika!