Director: Danish Renzu
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Shweta Tripathi, Adil Hussain
There have been so many on-screen immigrant stories that I have lost count of them But 20 years ago in 2000, the legendary British director, Ken Loach, created a hauntingly touching movie about Mexican immigrants in the US. Titled Bread and Roses, there was at least one heart-rending scene in which a woman without proper papers is pushed across the border into Mexico. More recently, we reviewed a Berlin Film Festival title, Any Day Now in which a family in Finland lives in constant fear of being deported to its native country.
Against this background, the 2019 film The Illegal, helmed by Danish Renzu that has just popped into Amazon Prime has hardly anything novel on offer. It is the same story of a young man from India travelling to California to study film, but unforeseen circumstances push him into a territory that is completely unlawful.
The young man is Hassan – essayed by Suraj Sharma whose only memorable credit till date has been The Life of Pie, released almost a decade ago in 2012. His father (Adil Hussain, getting boringly typecast) is not keen on his son’s plan to become a moviemaker, but Hassan’s mother and sister (Shweta Tripathi, a talent hugely wasted) veto the older man. And, off goes Hassan to pursue his American dream, and I could easily guess how that magic in his mind will turn into a mess. The father falls seriously ill, and Hassan has to take a huge loan from the shark of an employer (who runs a café with illegal immigrants, paying them a pittance and not letting them go home, holding on to their passports under lock and key).
The plot plays out in a mundane manner – with Hassan slipping up on food orders angering diners, and living an almost impossible life juggling between college script-writing assignments and work pressure with a boss, who resembles a typical Hindi film bad guy.
There is one glaring loophole that Renzu could have easily plugged, but did not do so. Hassan gets close to an American girl, Jessica (Hannah Masi). Why does he not open up to her? She could have easily helped him cope with his ever-worsening problems. Was it male ego or a misplaced sense of confidence?
Sharma is too stiff to make any kind of impression in a part that afforded enormous possibilities. He is dull and morose most of the time, even when he is with Jessica. Earlier on at home, he is not very different, and comes off as a poor contrast to his bright and cheerful sister. With an emotive range that hardly ever progresses beyond the wooden, Sharma is just a miscast.
The Illegal in all its 86 minutes hardly ever takes us towards anything that is even remotely high. Seriously, a subject like immigration can expand in a multiple of ways. The film, in the final analysis, stays in the shadows with not even a glimmer of sunlight. A professor who asks Hassan to go back home if he cannot cope, a café owner who is heartless and has no compassion. Is this America? I wonder.