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Film Review: ‘For Here or to Go?’
– The Story of Indian Lives in AmericaWhich Indian – in India, America or the Diaspora – doesn’t know the word ‘Green Card’? It is, after all, the Golden Grail which all immigrants yearn for, especially the HI B visa holders whose technology jobs place them on a roller coaster ride of uncertainty as temporary workers in America.
So the film ‘For Here or to Go?’ will touch just about every Indian as well as any immigrant who has shut the door on their sweet life in lost hometowns to achieve their dreams in the larger world. It takes on many of the issues that are affecting immigrants in the Age of Trump, where the horror stories include expiring visas, illegal immigration, attacks on Sikhs, deportations, and temporary workers being put on watch lists.
The visa ghetto takes you into a world that most mainstream Americans don’t even know exists, a world where you do not even dare buy furniture for your apartment because your future depends on the whims of the Immigration Gods. For the one with a precarious visa status, the existential question becomes where do I belong? Where is home? How long will I remain in limbo?
‘ For Here or To Go’ is written and produced by Rishi S. Bhilawadikar, and directed by Rucha Humnabadkar. The cast with Ali Fazal, Melanie Kannokada, Rajit Kapur, Amitosh Nagpal, Omi Vaidya and Samrat Chakrabarti, catches well the nuances of the FOB and the American Born Confused Desis, the mélange of first and second generation immigrants and Indian-Americans.
The film revolves around the visa turbulence of software engineer Vivek Pandit and his roommates, where a piece of paper decides their future and whether they will live in America or go back to India. Back and forth the dreams and hopes fly between the worker in America and the family in India, as these laborers of the new age navigate unknown travails.
Rishi Bhilawadikar, the writer/producer of this independent film, is a California-based tech worker who decided to turn filmmaker to tell his own story because no one else was telling it – and his story happens to be that of many, many Indians caught up in the immigration conundrum.
In an open letter to Indians in America on Medium, Bhilawadikar wrote, “Authentic mass media representation of the Indian American narrative is vital for influencing popular perception, especially during times of hostility toward immigrants.”
Bhilawadikar identifies himself as first generation immigrant from India, Bay Area resident, tech worker on a visa and accidental filmmaker. As he points out, “This is not just an independent film — a label typically given to films devoid of big studio involvement; it is a grassroots entrepreneurial effort — devoid of any film fraternity involvement or backing. I had no background in film — rather, this is a product of vision, passion and persistence since 2010 with contributions from over 600 artists and community members like yourselves. American in the mind and Indian at heart.”
For those who feel strongly about immigrant issues there is a chance to speak up and to support the film, You can draw attention to these concerns by donating to the fundraiser here.
Face to Face with Rishi Bhilawadikar
“I’ve hustled, stumbled, scrapped, muscled and willed this film into existence — like any other immigrant would in trying to establish their business.”
- Rishi Bhilawadikar
Who would have thought that H1 visa holders would be the subject of a movie one day? How did you decide to make ‘For Here or to Go?’
This film to me is a solution to a problem. That’s how I see it. The problem is that there is no authentic mass media representation of Indians in America. There’s nothing to influence popular perception and to create empathy and awareness of this very complex legal issue that affects lives. Storytelling in mass media is a required solution. It’s about solving this problem, shifting the narrative- film is a great medium for it.
How much of this movie is based on real life – and your own life?
It is a combination of my experiences and observations. I was writing a blog called “Stuff Desis Like” which was talking about the Indian assimilation experience and was started off as a meme following the “Stuff White People Like” blog. The blog was where the main inspiration came from
Was it difficult raising the funds for it?
Yes. I imagine it’s no different for any other venture!
The story of ‘For Here or to Go?’ is very pertinent to our harsh times. What do you hope viewers will take away from it?
It’s everybody’s story. If Indian viewers relate to it, American and non-Indian viewers should be able to become aware about the culture and immigration system in place.
How do you plan to market the movie to get it the maximum viewership?
This is an independent film and a lot will depend on our viewers and the community. We’ve put it in mainstream theaters so it accessible to everyone. We urge Indians to take their non-Indian friends and co-workers to the film, those who may not ever realize otherwise of what the immigrant situation is.
Do you have plans to take it back to India?
We want to show it to all parts of the world. It’s an immigrant story that anyone who has left home in search for a better life can relate to. In India it is especially important because it’s very difficult to explain to your loved ones what the situation is and to youngsters what their choices can be.
What was the most fun part of making this movie?
Writing it! And then, of course, watching it with an audience for the first time in a theater. It’s a special feeling. I also enjoyed the overall challenge of just getting it made.
How did you cast the movie?
On a character by character basis. Some we had to go to India for.
What’s next on the drawing board for you?
Few more of my own ideas that work at the intersection of policy and technology affecting human lives. Mainly though, this was made without any background- great talent and ideas can come from anywhere – and I want to help other passionate storytellers with urgent things to say to the world.
Do you feel your immigration status brought about life changes for you?
Absolutely! There are some real assimilation barriers- legally and socially – which affect life on all fronts. It’s all shown in the film.