Movie Review by Leigh Singer
Award-winning documentary in which a young British-Indian filmmaker chronicles her parents' 1960s emigration to England through her father's Super 8 home movie correspondence with their family back home
"This is a switch. A switch on the wall. This is a light. If I press the switch on the wall, the light will come on." With such helpful TV programming as 'Make Yourself At Home' did 1960s Britain attempt to aid immigrants coming to its shores.
For one such newcomer, Yash Pal Suri, audio-visual recording could be put to more practical and less patronizing use: after moving with his wife Sheel from Meerut, India, to northern England in 1965, Yash bought a pair of Super 8 cameras, projectors and reel-to-reel audio mixers, sent one to his family back home and with the other proceeded to document his life in a new country.
His daughter Sandhya Suri now uses this fascinating archive as the backbone for her own wonderful documentary, I For India. Suri employs clips from then-contemporary BBC documentaries on immigrant doctors (of which her father was one) and 1970s National Front marches to give historical context and insight into just how far multiculturalism has come, but mostly this is the very personal story of one family's 40-year odyssey across two countries.
Initially there is plenty of rich comic material in Yash's dispatches. The sheer novelty of winter snow, discos and Blackpool seafronts, compared to life back home, is captured by his parents and siblings. Slowly, though, a sense of loss, frustration and guilt at being "misfits from our own home" seeps into these faded 8mm reels - children with northern English accents who have never met their grandparents; a brother missing his sister's wedding; casual racism; ailing parents fretting that they may never see their son again.
Searching questions about family and personal responsibility are thrown up, but there are few easy answers. If nothing else, it confirms just how far and fast technology and communication have come. In the 1960s, with scarcely a telephone, let alone instant e-mail, mobile or video calls to ease the pain of separation, emigration could mean virtual exile.
A year after a death back home, in 1982 the family attempt to relocate to India with problematic consequences. For this latter part of the film, Suri switches tack, interviewing her parents and sisters to talk directly and frankly about their own views on where they felt most "at home" with perhaps surprising conclusions. Finally, with her sister Vanita's decision to change her own life, there's an ironic symmetry to the cycle of growing up and finding one's own place in the world.
Suri was undeniably fortunate to have such fantastic footage at her disposal but it's how she uses it that makes her film stand out. Depictions of wider cultural integration - early scenes of her mother and father at Darlington's Women's and Camcorder Clubs respectively are spot-on, and wonderfully adept in showing the bigger picture without ever being condescending. But it's the subtle, in-depth family portrait that hits home, weaving Yash and family's Super 8 reels, their audio and her own modern-day imagery into a finale that is both beautifully apt and almost unbearably moving.
A fascinating, heartrending, beautifully compiled glimpse into one expatriate family's filmed self-portrait.