Good Deed Entertainment presents a Brittany House Pictures Production In association with Emedia Films and Quixotic Road
Starring: Jason Lee, Anjul Nigam, Brighton Sharbino, Hilarie Burton, Roni Akurati
Written by: Anjul Nigam, Paul Quinn, Gregory Scott Houghton
Produced by: Anjul Nigam, Frank Lotito, Steve Straka
Directed by: Frank Lotito
When an Indian family moves to America in 1979 with the hope of living the American Dream, their 10-year-old son, Smith, falls head-over-heels for the girl next door. With an American Dream of his own, Smith strives to become a “good ol’ boy,” propelling him and his family further away from their traditional ideals than ever before.
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THE GOOD …
The cast couldn’t have been better. Actors molded into their characters like a second skin. From the big screen debutante, Roni Akuruti, playing a 10- year old, Smith, the film’s writer/ producer, Anjul Nigam, playing the first generation Indian immigrant, to the cowboy- neighbor played by Jason Lee, and everyone on the cast- they all seemed quite simply- real!
Roni Akruti portrayed the perfect mix of enthusiasm and eager to embrace the new, the discipline and respect to imbibe the inherited, and the innocence and optimism to blend the two. He played the role to perfection.
Anjul Nigam, in the role of an immigrant father captured the essence of many a first generation fathers who came in the 1970s and to an extent even now, some 40 years later. The fathers who dream of providing their families with the comfort that is an undeniable part of the American lifestyle but wants to hold on to and pass on what he perceives to be Indian culture. Poorna Jagannathan (of Delhi Belly fame), as his wife, has embodied the mother that tries to strike a balance between pleasing her kids and siding with her own perception of traditions that she came with. Shoba Narayan as the older sister, Brighton Sharbino as the girl next door, Austin Harrod as a kid in the class, older Smith- Samrat Chakrabarti, have all contributed towards making this film a very real life story.
The Story-line/ the look and the feel:
You may think you have seen quite a few movies based on Indian immigrants, but this is truly to sit back, enjoy and relate to at some level- for you are sure to have heard of (if not experienced) almost all of the events that are part of the fabric here. The pace of the film is just right to keep you involved- as in being a part of the family. The humor keeps you entertained. The movie is set in the 1970s- the sets, the cars from that era, the clothing, the furniture- all keep you intrigued.
THE BAD ..
As a film critic, there is nothing that you would point out as could-have-been-done-differently. Even the twist that the film takes, that in your view-point may seem drastic/ sad has actually occurred in real lives of some immigrant families- as the writer/ producer, Anjul Nigam, is quick to point out in response to my question regarding this during the Q&A post the film screening that I attended. Besides, as Nigam says, what seems overly strict to us reflects the extent that some parents would go to in order to ensure that their children imbibe the traditions that they grew up with.
You leave the theater not only laughing at some of the outrageous attempts at blending in, but also reflecting over what you as a parent are reasonable or not-so-reasonable about when it comes to your desire of passing on your precious values to your progeny. Of course, you walk out impressed at the 1970s look and feel for it reminds you of the pictures that you probably received in India from your aunt or uncle who lived in America and sent you pictures of themselves, their house and their car.
There is another aspect- the timing of the movie’s release is good. At a time when the President of the United States of America has the immigrants running scared and there are those regarded as his “base camp” that are anti- immigrants, at a time when sentiments like “they don’t blend enough” are re-surfacing against the Indians, this movie brings to light the fact that in our own ways, we do make attempts, at various different levels, to live the American dream like the Americans do. Yes, we tend to hold on to our traditions (some more so than others), but that is just our way of imbibing the best of both the worlds- and who can blame us? After all, we do come from the land of rich scriptures, ancient traditions and colorful culture. On our part, we just need to do a better job of filtering in the right values (separating the dakyunusee- a word my mom often used to shun practices that cannot possibly have any religious origin but are passed on in its name), conveying it the right way to kids (rather than the because-I-said-so parental tool) and ensuring we carry it out the right way (by not projecting the notion that somehow “loose” character is the quintessence of the western culture
Overall, the movie is a must-watch- for any immigrant family for the obvious reasons, and also for the non-immigrant families, to get a refreshing insight into the minds and lives of “those people”. Take your kids with you to share the experience of “looking in” from outside. Most importantly, be sure to discuss it at lengths- again, this goes for both the immigrant families and the non, for it provides ample opportunity to remind yourself to be kind- kind to your kids, to your parents, to your neighbor and yes, to that family that is fresh-off-the-boat.
MEETING THE CAST …. POST THE FILM’S SCREENING …(spoilers here!)
We had the opportunity to meet up with Anjul Nigam, Roni Akurati, and Austin Harrod post the film’s screening that was brought to the audience in Dallas Fort Worth metroplex by DFW South Asian Film Festival (DFWSAFF).
Anjul Nigam, the film’s producer (originally named Good Ol’ Boy) who is also the writer and plays the dad in the movie, gave us an in-depth insight into the making of the film. He spoke of growing up in Connecticut, of moving to Los Angeles in 1989 with a degree in Drama from New York Univrsity, of being in the acting career for 22 years (he is 51 now) before changing course to write- produce in order to take charge of it, the long time that the film’s script took to complete (about 10 years). of being at an age where he ended up playing the dad at the time that the script completed, of losing his friend Paul Quinn as director while in the process of making the film, of having to complete the film without Quinn, of finding Frank Lotito to finish the direction, and of setting the film in 1979- “You would be surprised what you can find on eBay”, he told us when asked how did he bring about the look and the feel of the late 1970s. “You probably didn’t realize that there are just 15 cars in the entire movie, re-used in different scenes as props”, he elaborated. We learned of several other interesting facts pertaining to filming. The movie was made in about 2 million dollars. Nigam spoke of segments of story that are in fact inspired by the actual experiences of immigrants he grew up with or knew of. I asked him about what I thought of as a sad twist in the tale that was otherwise just as funny as it was realistic. He assured me that what I referred to as “sad” has actually happened in more than one family that he knew of. In fact, even the way that the mother communicated with her son in India has been taken off of the pages of a real person’s life. Nigam also talked of how some snippets are in fact based on his own father who would make him do “uthak bethak” (a form of sit ups) as a form of punishment.Since his family had moved to America in the 70s while he was still a young boy (he was 2 at the time), many shades of his own experiences have been threaded in into the fabric of the film. Interestingly he was first approached to be a part of the film in 2000 by writer Gregory Scott Houghton who had based his original script on his roommate Ramesh Raju’s personal life experience growing up as an immigrant in Oklahoma. Knowing that Anjul Nigam had over a decade of career behind him (Focus Features’ BAD WORDS for director, HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE, guest star in “Growing Pains”- to name a few) before venturing into production, his humility touches you. He hopes to drive home the message of “taking the moment in this world to understand those whose needs and desires you do not know of- to take a step back and ask”, he says. Meeting Roni Akurati was as much of a delight as watching him on screen was. He is humble and very real. He spoke from his heart. “Smith’s life is my life times 100”, he said, of playing the role. “Of course, my parents are not that strict, and they don’t have a wife ready for me, but they can be strict”. He appeared to be a regular American boy who loves acting. He is a 9th grader in Chicago and no, he is not in theater at school. Roni described his audition with the film makers for the role which had to happen over Skype. “I was visiting India at the time when my mom informed me about the role. I auditioned over Skype and the connection wasn’t good, but I learned got the role within 3 weeks and in another 3 weeks, the shooting started”, he smiled as he narrated. “We found the perfect blend of bewilderment, curiosity and innocence in him”, Nigam added.
Austin Harrod is local to DFW area, living in Frisco. It was lapped up for the role of the bully in the class due to “the very genuine vibe of an otherwise good guy” that he conveys- as Anjul Nigam put it. Nigam knew he was the right kid for the role after watching mere 7 seconds of the trailer of the Red Wing, a 2013 film that he was part of. When asked what did he feel about his role, he quite simply said, “it sucked playing a bully”. You could clearly tell that the lad has a great heart.