First-time helmer Nisha Pahuja’s highly entertaining docu provides a playful, wry look at four Indo-Canadians who have reversed the migratory tide and left Canada for India to make it in the movies. Pahuja’s humor is always affectionate and rarely at her subjects’ expense, but it certainly helps that her players are resilient actors graced with a highly developed sense of absurdity. At the same time, docu takes a serious look at the peculiar paradox of NRIs (non-resident Indians) everywhere — unlike most other immigrant groups, their image of Indian-ness may itself be a fantasy, rooted not in family but in Bollywood. In the wake of the success of “Monsoon Wedding” and the newfound viability of “Westernized” Indian movies, pic’s dual cultural perspective should play well Stateside, particularly in arthouse venues and on public or cable TV.
Pahuja skillfully interweaves footage of all four of her footloose expatriate quartet, all at different stages of their careers. Neehru Bajwa, at the beginning of her quest, travels from Vancouver to Mumbai, where she’s been promised a film tryout. Ruby Bhatia, in contrast, has already made the pilgrimage and achieved TV superstardom as India’s first veejay. Meanwhile, six-year veteran Vikram Dhillon and his more recently arrived sister Vekeana fall somewhere between, hosting a glitzy TV show in matching leather outfits while waiting for their bigscreen break.
Pic follows all four separately on their daily rounds, as they call elusive agents, producers and directors for infinitely postponed screen tests or auditions, ponder which headshots to include in their portfolios or, in the case of Ruby, prepare a demo reel for CNN on her way to her stated goal of becoming “the Oprah Winfrey of India.”
Amazingly articulate when it comes to describing the ethnic alienation they experienced when growing up, all four describe a similar split: “On weekdays we’d be totally Canadian, on weekends we’d be totally Indian.” All have formed their concept of India from Hindi movies, while the real country, with its poverty, crowds, heat and imported Western pop culture, comes as something of a culture shock: “Mmm,” Neehru sighs as she bites into a McDonald’s hamburger, “this has to be the best meal I’ve had since I set foot in India.”
And all experience the same kind of reverse alienation when they get to India, where it isn’t fashionable to be “too Indian.” As Bhatia succinctly puts it, one goes from being the Indian girl in Canada to being the Canadian girl in India.
Docu’s dashing and cavalier mix of homevideos, demo tapes, Hindi film clips, interviews, reconstructions and cutely gimmicky special effects threatens at times to veer into outright whimsy, but Pahuja’s innate wit and good rhythmic sense keep the film on an even tonal keel.
Vikram’s fantasy of seeing himself as the bigger-than-life star of his own movie is fulfilled as his black-caped figure theatrically strides through the freeze-framed crowd at the train station in a dramatic re-enactment of his arrival in Mumbai. The giant movie posters that dominate the cityscape suddenly acquire voices to alternately encourage or mock the newly debarked Neehru. And, the pic’s last visual twist niftily satirizes Pahuja’s own showbiz ambition: The billboard a painter is seen working on in the background turns out to be the poster for “Bollywood Bound.”
Tech credits are fine, particularly sharp lensing by Ali Kazimi and the slyly synched track of Bollywood music samplings.