Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

I for India

Sandhya Suri (2005)

UK and Germany

Genre: Biography
Genre: Documentary

A very different view of family life and the 20th-century Indian experience is to be found in Sandhya Suri's I for India, a deceptively simple documentary about the experiences of her father, Dr Yash Pal Suri. A general practitioner, he came to England from India with his wife in 1965 to work at a hospital on Teesside and had three handsome daughters, all now grown up. On his arrival, he bought two Super 8 cameras, two projectors and two tape recorders. One set was for himself, the other for his family back in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, and over the next 20 years they were used instead of formal letter writing.His daughter, a National Film School graduate, has drawn on this wonderful archive to build a remarkable, intimate account of one family's experience of the Indian diaspora. A particular highlight, and a rather sad one, concerns the father's brief attempt to return to India and set up a practice in Meerut. Truly, you can't go home again and the film ends as one of his daughters quits England for a new life in Australia. Phillip French, The Guardian, 5 August 2007

The family memoir has come to be a staple of modern British publishing, and Sandhya Suri's gem of a film shows that the genre works on screen, too. It is a cine-autobiography, a real-life family story, unassumingly told: funny, engaging and often very moving. The director's father is Dr Yash Pal Suri, who qualified in medicine in his native India and then, in 1965, brought his family over to Britain, settling in Darlington, where the NHS needed qualified doctors. But Dr Suri wanted to stay in contact with his family back home, and so, with no little flair and imagination, he purchased two Super 8 movie-cameras, two projectors and two reel-to-reel tape recorders. One set of these he shipped back home, the other he kept himself, making films of his new life and then recording a live commentary, to be played in tandem with the film - and he asked his brother to do the same.
It was a tremendous archival experiment. Decades later, his daughter discovered the cache of cine-reels and reconstructed an extraordinary dialogue of words and pictures between India and the UK covering many years: a vivid, evolving record of culture, identity and the fierce and complex emotions involved in leaving your homeland. Her film does not merely pay a warm tribute to her father's project, but continues it, taking up the story where she and her sisters have to make their own choices about where to live.Her story is interspersed with 1960s TV footage including some toe-curlingly condescending British programmes targeted at the new south Asian communities: one gentleman, speaking slowly in the Queen's English, shows them how to use a light switch, perhaps unaware that it was the language, not the technology, that would have been unfamiliar. Other clips show National Front yobs on the march, and Margaret Thatcher's interview about being "swamped".The home movies show a pleasant, prosperous life - with family parties and jolly nurses demonstrating Scottish country dancing for the camera - though there are encounters with persistent, casual racism. But it is the films coming back from India that carry the film's emotional force. His brother reproaches him for not coming home for family weddings. Finally, his adored mother dies and we hear his father's quavering voice on the reel-to-reel tape - devastated, bewildered, angry - begging his son to return because he has nothing left to live for. Listening to this gave me a lump in the throat.
Perhaps Dr Suri felt all this much more keenly because of his filming; the films showed him how all his distant family were growing older, and how he must be growing older as well. The very fact of both filming his life, and trafficking the results with that filmed parallel life in India, allowed him to scrutinise his own existence and choices far more clearly. He has, to paraphrase Socrates, an intensely examined life. In just 71 minutes, Sandhya Suri's film covers a huge amount of ground, and makes you believe you know the family personally: a miraculous mini-epic. It's terrifically warm, watchable film-making. Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 3 August 2007

 For more details see I for India website.

 Keywords: family memoires; documentary; autobiography

Posted by Daniela Berghahn on 02 Sep 2009 •





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: Monsieur Ibrahim / Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran

Previous entry: East is East

Powered by ExpressionEngine - Designed by PageToScreen