A few days back on June 28th, I had the privilege to attend the Philadelphia premiere of director, Kevin Dalvi’s, debut film, Promise Land, a contemporary movie regarding South Asian immigration issues. The premiere was hosted by AnjuThreads at the exclusive Ritz East Theater with the V.I.P. party at the hot and happening Reserve Bar and Lounge.
The movie, produced by Nequa Studios, and written/directed by Kevin Dalvi, features three concurrent narratives of three different families that are used to etch out the problems and struggles still facing South Asians. The families’ journeys take us through the ebb and flow of various personal as well as immigration issues, and culminate in how each family eventually confronts, overcomes, and accepts their respective fates.
Overall, the movie is a must watch and garners a 4 out of 5. I have broken down my review for each storyline. Read below for the full review and scroll to the bottom to view the pictures from the Philadelphia Premiere! Also, keep it locked to UrbanAsian and the Promise Land Facebook page for details on the full-scale release!
Story #1 – The Khan Family
The first story centers on a Muslim family originally from Pakistan. When we are first introduced to them, they seem like your typical American family – enjoying life, playing sports, and hanging out with friends. The patriarch of the family, Arif Khan (played by Kamal Joseph Hans), seemingly has it all – perfect wife, two perfect kids, perfect job, and the perfect life. However, immigration rears its ugly head and threatens to tear the family apart. The family has to interview with federal officers to prove why they should stay in the US… but are they able to? I won’t spoil the ending for you – for that you’ll have to watch the movie – but I will say that it isn’t the result you will expect.
Some highlights of this portion of the movie include scenes between Mouzam Makkar, who plays Saniya Khan, and her gal pals. Dalvi smartly added in some funny moments into the storyline early on, to both normalize the lives of the characters and to also help the viewer forge a connection with the characters. Of the actors playing the friends, Charlie Ciarrocchi, in particular, is able to draw the viewer into the story with her bubbly persona and comic timing. She seems a natural in front of the camera, and is able to infuse just the right amount of humor into each of her scenes. Look out for a slam dunk (that’s your hint as to when to look out for him) cameo by producer, Sunny Verma! Mouzam too does a great job with the role of Saniya Khan and does a commendable job bringing the character’s array of emotions to life. Some of the other actors in this portion, however, needed to connect better to their characters to bring them even more to life. Had they done so, the story would have evoked even greater sympathy from the viewer. Also, there are certain aspects that were initially confusing – i.e. as to the relationship of the characters, but by the middle portion of the story, things get clearer.
Story #2 – The Aspiring Employees
Story number two revolves around Ryan Sherman (played by Tim McCarthy), Vinny Oak (Nikhil Bafna), and Deepika Malhotra (Leena Kurishingal) who are employees of what can only be deemed an IT sweatshop. The company is run under the tight grasp of Rajeev Chopra. This story focuses on work permit issues and, like story #1, the conclusion to it is well written.
The characters in this segment seemed more etched out than those in Story #1. The characters were a lot more layered and, therefore, more easy to relate to. Each person had their own personal pressures to cope with as well as work pressures. The three characters begin with some coldness and hostility obviously present among them, but by the end, we are able to see the wider journey they are taking. Of the actors, Nikhil Bafna and Tim McCarthy stood out as they carried the bulk of the storyline and shared the most screen time. Both essayed their roles without going over the top. Such subdued performances worked to add realism to their roles.
However, there is another actor who steals the whole show! Despite essaying a relatively smaller role than the main trio, the character played by Suneel Mundle steals the show. His comic timing is dead on and was a hit with the crowd I watched the movie with. Suneel is funny without seemingly trying too hard. Each time he is on the screen, get ready to laugh! Again, the writing is well done by Dalvi, who masterfully adds in comic moments in what was one of the more serious storylines. Story 2 showcases Dalvi’s writing talent best as there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. It is the strongest written of the three plot lines.
Story #3 – The Struggling Couple
The issue of gays/lesbians has often been glossed over in Indian cinema. However, while still tackling the larger issue of immigration, Dalvi manages to seamlessly add in this equally heavy issue into his story. Story 3 deals with a lesbian couple – Ruby Gupta (played by Fawzia Mirza) and Jennifer Tamer (played by Brenda Barrie) – whose lives were going smoothly until Ruby’s mother, Maya (played by Anita Chandwaney), arrives to shake things up. That’s not the only worry they have to face, as it is possible that Ruby may be deported. How they cope with Ruby’s Mom and Ruby’s work struggles form the basis for this story line.
Viewers were surprised that a lesbian couple had been added, but this portion is much needed in the overall movie to further underline how immigration issues affect South Asians of all backgrounds. Of the three stories, the actors in Story 3 portrayed their characters best. The on-screen chemistry between Fawzia and Brenda worked well and made their relationship believable. Fawzia especially plays her role with conviction. However, the stand out in the whole story is Anita Chandwaney. Her character reminded me a great deal of the Mom from Bend it Like Beckham as well as Kiron Kher’s character from Dostana! Her expressions are priceless and her quest to get Ruby married to a straight man, equally hilarious. Behind all these comic moments, however, Dalvi manages to tackle the fact that society needs to accept gay couples. This storyline really makes you think, because we often forget the greater implications and legal implications of not granting gay couples the full rights of a married couple.
This is an excellent and unique debut for director Kevin Dalvi. While most immigration stories often end in despair, Dalvi’s Promise Land promises that the journey doesn’t necessarily have to end at a dead-end. Rather, it offers that the path South Asian immigrants can follow has several branches. While the branches may not fork out into the US, alternatives such as going to other countries or even returning home also promise to be fruitful paths. The one word that resonates in your mind when you watch the movie is that of “hope”. I can promise you all that Promise Land is definitely worth checking out!
Keep it locked to UrbanAsian for all things Promise Land!
Images from the Philadelphia Premiere Event:
OFFICIAL PAGE: http://www.promiselandfilm.com/index.html