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  I for India
Sandhya Suri

James Cross
posted 1 August 2007

Everyone migrates. Everyone starts somewhere and ends somewhere else – even if they don’t physically move anywhere. But to begin somewhere and end up somewhere completely different, to find yourself wedged between modes of expression, abandoned across the massive space of continents, and then trapped in the passage of time; this is surely a more sordid experience of migration.

This is a documentary that has grown out of the filmmaker’s father’s audio and video diaries. It documents his and his family’s experiences of leaving India in 1965 and making a home in the north of England. The most extraordinary part of the movie is the family’s attempt and failure to return to their country and, as it were, re-resettle. The family discovers that their émigré ticket is a one-way ticket.

The father – Yash Pal Suri – is philosophical about the whole experience; clearly the recordings are a cathartic outlet for his feelings and thoughts. So, the film is personal and domestic, tender and raw. At one point we hear Yash Pal deeply upset that the English people (perhaps at the hospital where he works) are content to misspell or mispronounce his name, but are quick to ensure that he gets their names right. I am sure his daughter must have chosen this moment of anger for its irony as well as its pain – her father explains to his tape recorder that ‘Suri’ is often turned into ‘Fury’.

Included in the film and set against the Suris’ experiences are clips from BBC TV archives. The film opens with a clip in which a man explains, for the sake of newcomers to this island and apparently to civilisation, how to switch on a light. Yes, it’s very disturbing to watch this. But it’s also darkly humorous. Humour is something the film does not use as much as it could. I don’t mean to undermine the power of Yash Pal’s feelings of frustration and bitterness that we see in the film. They are very powerful and, I think, very serious feelings. But there is also a funny, lighthearted side to the way Yash Pal sees English suburban life after his upbringing in India, which comes out occasionally but is never emphasised.

I am not sure whether the film wants to make a serious point about migration (the tone of the film is in many ways quite serious and melancholic), or whether this is simply a finely-edited home movie. Either way, if, like me, you’re slightly obsessed with thinking about what people mean when they say ‘multicultural’, I think you will find this a really clever and very watchable picture.

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