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The Illegal review: This story of immigrants in the US is filled with reality and hope

Release Date: 21 Sep 2019 / 01hr 36min

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Keyur Seta

The film appears as real as a documentary even as it treads the feature-film route. A migrant struggling to make a life in any country will relate with it.

In almost all second and third world countries, going to America or the US of A is considered a matter of prestige and India is no different. Irrespective of whether you are headed there for work or to study, you instantly start getting more respect from the people around. The great American dream has been promoted so much over the years through various media that many think life must be heavenly there.

However, things are not so rosy for everyone. There are many immigrants who lead lives of misery in the most advanced country on earth while their family members back home are under the impression that the person is having a great time out there in the West. Director Danish Renzu wakes you up to that reality in his English-Hindi film The Illegal.

The film is about Hasan (Suraj Sharma) who decides to study filmmaking from an institute in Los Angeles, California. He lives a middle-class life with his parents (Adil Hussain and Neelima Azmi) and elder sister (Shweta Tripathi) in Delhi. His father procures a loan to get his son’s dream fulfilled despite not having a guarantor to repay the amount with interest.

Hasan was supposed to stay at his uncle’s place in LA. But moments after he lands at there, he realizes, much to his dejection, that he is a burden on them. He leaves their residence and decides to stay somewhere else. But with limited funds, he is stranded. Thankfully, Babaji (Iqbal Theba), a senior waiter working in New Delhi Cafe, comes to his rescue. He also helps him get a job at the restaurant which is managed by a ruthless Indian owner.

To some extent, the initial portions of the film remind you of the late Rishi Kapoor’s sole directorial venture Aa Ab Laut Chale (1999). The film saw Akshaye Khanna’s character go to the US only to realize that life is not all hunky-dory for Indians migrating there.

The 1999 movie had a different story. Also, that film touched reality only at the surface. The Illegal, on the other hand, delves deep into the issue in a thoroughly realistic manner. The unique point about the narrative here is that it appears as real as a documentary even as it treads the feature-film route. This is seen through in the writing and the presentation. The film will be relatable to any migrant struggling in any country.

Even in scenes where there is drama and fights, the realism is maintained. There are times when the story develops without any kind of spoonfeeding for the audience. For example, there is a sweet moment when Babaji takes pity on Hasan and offers him a meal and shelter. All this happens without anyone uttering a single line, yet it’s completely convincing.

The performances play a large part in keeping the proceedings real. Suraj Sharma has already proven his acting skills in the acclaimed Life Of Pi (2012). He reinforces that view here by bringing in the right vulnerability needed for the character.

Pakistan-born American actor Iqbal Theba effortlessly oozes kindness in every second of his appearance. Shweta Tripathi hardly shares the screen with Sharma but still succeeds in being his biggest emotional support. The limited screen time does not prevent Adil Hussain from making an impact.

The only aspect that is a bother here is Hasan’s romantic angle with Jessica (Hannah Masi), which appears half-baked. It is also questionable how she invites Hasan, a waiter, to her place for a party when she hardly knows him.

Going through the basic plot, anyone will guess that the story will end with Hasan achieving his dream or failing to do so. Suffice it to say that The Illegal does not have a conventional climax, but the film ends on a hopeful note.

The Illegal was screened at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival on 19 October 2019. It is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

Related topics

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival Amazon Prime Video

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