Like so many families, lacing up our ancient projector and replaying our favourite Super 8 home movies was something we used to do with routine nostalgia. Only years later, as an adult, when I came across a box of audio reels, did I realize that the films were part of a much bigger story. Over weeks I sat down and listened to over 100 reels of audio letters, which my father had recorded and exchanged with his family back home in India — the most intimate thoughts and observations of our lives in England over a period of forty years. At the same time as he was recording Super 8 films of birthday parties, new houses and our successful lives abroad, the audio tapes were telling a more complex story. The familiar home movies took on a whole new meaning for me.
I inherited my father's passion for documenting and I knew that he had given me the greatest gift I could have wished for as a documentary-maker — real, long-term development. For me the challenge was a big one. Could I structure such a huge amount of personal archive, in the space of a 70 minute film, and give it an emotional coherence that would truly represent the lives of my family over 4 decades? As a second-generation immigrant could I convey the complex, bitter-sweet yearning for home which had simultaneously plagued and comforted my father for so many years? And most importantly, did I have the skills to recreate the true richness and complexity of my parents' experience of immigration and set it within a wider historical context? I wanted to make a sincere, personal film, which was creative and ambitious in its form, and which would touch those who watched it.
As much as the audio letters and Super 8 films are moving, they are also incredibly funny. Along with the questions of displacement and belonging, I wanted to share with my audience the fun. How did a young Indian doctor, arriving in England in the mid-sixties view his strange new hosts? What did he find funny about them, what did he admire in them and what did he despise?
Listening to my father's audio letters, to the mike clicking on and off, us as children playing in the background, his breath as he struggles to find the right words, or the barely concealed anger or puzzlement in his voice, you can really picture him sitting in front of his tape recorder, documenting his life. In this film, I've tried to give shape to the reality, which he documented so passionately. 'I for India' started with some Super 8 movies and a box of audio reels but grew into much more than I could have expected.