“Where are you from?” asks the curious LA lass, clearly interested in the handsome brown waiter beyond his serving capabilities.
“From Daryaganj,” the homesick immigrant replies, clearly unconcerned about the girl’s geographical knowledge.
I believe Suraj Sharma was the first choice to play Hassan, the dreamer from Daryaganj who lands in Los Angeles, feet first, dreaming of learning filmmaking but instead ends up being a waiter in an Indian restaurant owned by a man Khan who is part saint, part sinner. Khan slave-drives the illegal brown boys who have nowhere to go. For Hassan, he has a special name. Spielberg. We hear you.
Suraj owns Hassan’s part imbuing the character with vulnerability and strength, power and helplessness as he gets more and more sucked into a wage-earning mode. The Illegal is a much more sensitive and moving drama about cultural and emotional displacement than it seems. Outwardly, it appears to be one more migrant’s tale. Aren’t they all the same?
It is this sameness that the narrative slips into to accentuate the tragedy of an individual losing his identity in a melee of vicious competitiveness. By the time Hassan becomes just a face in the crowd in opportunity-driven America, we have seen his character go through a whole gamut of emotions from hope to despair, from dreamer to scrounger.
The Illegal is a sharp never-shallow always-probing take on the migrant’s disenchantment with a vividly sketched central character played with remarkable sang-froid by Suraj Sharma. Watch his rage explode in the sequence where he abuses his exploitative boss or when he breaks his camera. This is a performance that comes straight from the heart. Moving and yet controlled, the central performance defines the film’s mood which is never over-done, never over-stated.
Some of the supporting characters are hauntingly tangible. Babaji (Iqbal Theba), the kind patriarch who takes Hassan under his wings, feeds Hassan’s hungry belly and his hungrier ambitions and controls his anger when it swells into over-tide.
Back home in Daryaganj, the very talented Adil Hussain, Neelima Azim and Shweta Tripathy have very little to do as Hassan’s family except pray for his prosperity and wait for him to return. Neither happens. It is the nature of the beast. Once the American Dream swallows you, it doesn’t spit you back to where you came from.
The Illegal is a timely tale well told. It is moving and rewarding, excruciatingly predictable and all the more appealing for it.
Image source: IMDb
They say the best things in life are free! India’s favourite music channels 9XM, 9X Jalwa, 9X Jhakaas & 9X Tashan are available Free-To-Air. Make a request for these channels from your Cable, DTH or HITS operator.