“The Illegal,” which revolves around the plight of immigrants in the U.S., deserves a 4.5/5.
This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) 2019. There was one particular film I was quite excited about, called The Illegal, starring Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and directed by Danish Renzu.
Why was I excited? Because this film brought together two exceptional talents – the thespian Sharma and the visionary Renzu.
I recall watching Renzu’s last film, Half Widow, at last year’s film festival. The film captivated me and blew my mind away, and I could not wait to see what Renzu would do next. Fortunately, I did not have to wait long.
Many a time we go to Indian restaurants, interact with the staff there, eat our meal and leave. Such staff, in many circumstances, also tend to be immigrants. However, how many of us actually spend time thinking about the staff? What is their life like? What are they going through? Is there hope for them to achieve their dreams? Or are they stuck in a vicious cycle, doomed to keep pursuing their dreams rather than achieving them?
These are the central questions which make up the crux of The Illegal. The film tells the story of Hasan (Sharma) who travels to the U.S. from India to pursue filmmaking at UCLA. Coming from a modest background, Hasan comes on a loan, expecting support from family living in LA, only for things to take a cruel turn. Hasan is forced to earn a living full time, while also being a full time student. Will Hasan be able to handle his new lifestyle? Will he achieve his dream or will he sacrifice it at the altar of circumstance and necessity? To find these answers, watch The Illegal.
The central theme of the film revolves around the plight of immigrants in the U.S. These are individuals stuck in a myriad of circumstances, whether it be trying to eke out the American dream, trying to go back to their countries to see their families, or simply trying to avoid becoming a social deviation in a new world. Although the film does not take a political tone, it is latently clear that this is an issue that is very much part of the political landscape today.
We often do not hear enough about South Asians whom come on visas, especially student visas, and then get caught up in circumstances similar to what Hasan faces. This is a group of neglected immigrants, and it is brave of Renzu to bring their issues out on the fore.
Performance wise, every actor leaves a mark. Suraj Sharma is fabulous as the determined yet vulnerable Hasan, and you can empathize completely with what his character is going through. It is truly heartbreaking to see a young man’s dreams shatter like dominoes. Shweta Tripathi is a complete natural as Hasan’s sister, and you can feel her pain in the climax. Adil Hussain, Neelima Azim and Hannah Masi perform brilliantly as Hasan’s parents and love interest. Jay Ali evokes true hatred in the audience for his villainous role as Hasan’s boss. Iqbal Theba steals the show as Babaji, the kind godfather and mentor to Hasan, with his understated acting and expressions.
Kudos must be given to Renzu for picking a relevant yet underrepresented subject. Having also written the film, Renzu is able to translate his vision perfectly on screen, lending the film the right pacing, subtlety, drama and poignancy throughout. There is nothing unbelievable or filmy depicted on screen, and audiences immediately sense a slice of life while watching the movie. What I must particularly commend Renzu on is his handling of the last 15-20 minutes of the film, which wrench your heart. I was borderline on tears during this portion of the film!
The film forces you to think and pause next time you interact with individuals in a restaurant. You will, once having watched the film, look at every employee with a different lens. You will wonder, what is their story? What is their pain?
There are so many that face the challenges that Hasan faces whom are lost in the shadows. This film acknowledges this forgotten demographic’s presence and forces us to sit up and take notice.
After a beautiful Half Widow, Renzu’s knack for socially relevant and touching filmmaking continues. I highly enjoyed it and give it a 4.5/5. Don’t miss it!