Emmy-nominated filmmaker, comedian and fellow brown girl Kiran Deol’s latest gift to the world is her short film “American Haze,” a personal account of her family’s migration from India via England to the United States, which touches upon a few major experiences and struggles that many immigrants become familiar with when they make the initial move to the U.S.
Deol has recently been sharing her film with audiences throughout the past month in collaboration with the #IAmAnImmigrant movement—a celebration of the contributions immigrants have made and are continuing to make in our country.
Featuring an insightful interview with her parents, Deol’s documentary is joyful and optimistic, yet sobering and deeply moving at the same time, tugging at one’s heartstrings when some of the realities, both pleasant and unpleasant, of what it means to be an immigrant are discussed.
Deol presents her family’s story in a clever, quintessential American way, likening the U.S. to a grand fraternity like those often found on college campuses across America. The naturalization process, acculturation and ultimate Americanization of immigrants is equated to the hazing experience undergone by those hopefuls who intend to become part of a fraternity.
As part of the “American Haze,” Deol shows how her family became part of the American community as citizens and outlines key steps that had to be taken to do so, similar to the mandatory tasks that usually have to be completed by prospective frat members during the hazing process before they are able to successfully join college fraternities.
Pledging comes in the form of committing to the process of gaining American citizenship which involves lots of paperwork, including first applying for visas in order to migrate over, then applying for a green card for permanent residency, and then finally the naturalization application—all of which collectively takes years to complete. To become a citizen and be able to call America home, particularly taking the oath during the long awaited naturalization ceremony, after years of hard work and sacrifice is especially meaningful for many immigrants including Deol and her family.
The path to becoming a citizen is not without its hardships—beyond the paperwork are the challenges of simply living in the U.S. and making it one’s home. And even after citizenship is acquired, sometimes the hazing continues.
In addition to all the glory and celebration that comes when immigrants finally are granted citizenship, there are the obstacles they face long after they become fully integrated members of American society. For brown immigrants like Deol’s parents, it meant dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, being treated differently because of how they look and having their loyalty to America questioned, an experience not uncommon for many South Asians. It’s an unfair part of the deal, but one that doesn’t stop Deol’s family from appreciating the freedoms and rights given to them in the U.S.
Adopting the customs and ways of life typically known in America is inevitable as immigrants adapt to survive and come to claim those customs, once foreign to them, as their own. For immigrants to share in what it means to be an American, to revel in the opportunities that wouldn’t have been afforded to them in their home country, or even to enjoy things that are as simple as burgers and beer with members of their community, is what makes up the fellowship of the American Fraternity.
In a short amount of time, Deol’s film manages to encompass the complex but worthwhile journey of being an immigrant. Her piece is not only relevant to our current political and social climate but is also universal especially to those for whom immigration hits close to home, whether it’s firsthand or having family and friends who share the immigrant experience.
Immigrant Heritage Month may have come and gone but it is still important to remember to keep the stories of immigrants alive every day because they are a vital part of the fabric of the United States as they continue to work hard to claim their space and make valuable contributions to society. In a time when harmful rhetoric against immigrants is being spread, it is imperative for us to remind ourselves that immigrants are a big part of what makes America great.
Miranda Deebrah is an Indo-Guyanese writer and storyteller based in New York. Proud of her roots and heritage, she is an advocate for South Asian voices not yet heard and the stories not yet told. She is passionate about the arts and their ability to create change in the world and hopes to make her own contributions through her work. Her interests include traveling, reading biographies, spending evenings at the theater, reenacting choreography from Lady Gaga’s music videos, taking flying trapeze lessons, and making all kinds of magic happen.
Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh is known for creating a mix of stylish (read: Channing Tatum-starring “Magic Mike”) and influential films (like “Traffic”).
It’s no surprise to see his name attached to stars like Claire Danes, Dennis Quaid, Timothy Olyphant, Jim Gaffigan and writer Ed Solomon (of “Men in Black” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” fame). But a story about the Guyanese community in Queens, New York was quite unexpected.
“Full Circle” is a whirlwind thriller that released in July on the streaming platform Max.
The six-part mini-series centers around the foiled kidnapping of Jared Browne (played by Ethan Stoddard), the son of Samantha and Derek Browne (Danes and Olyphant) and grandson of celebrity “Chef Jeff” McCusker (Quaid).
The scheme is devised by Savitri Mahabir (played by CCH Pounder of “Avatar” and “NCIS: New Orleans”), a wealthy Guyanese businesswoman with a host of nefarious ventures, and her right-hand man, Garmen Harry (Phaldut “Paul” Sharma). Mahabir is seeking revenge for the recent murder of her brother-in-law by rival Edward Chung, but what does this have to do with the Brownes?
The answer to this question and the unraveling of other dark secrets is what “Full Circle” is all about.
Now, if this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. The show is fast-paced and makes good use of cliffhangers to keep you watching, but, frankly, the episodes are shaky — quite literally in terms of camera work and figuratively.
Early on, Soderbergh darts between stylish, abstract shots of objects in the shadows and minute details that may create an air of mystery, but ultimately just confuses viewers, raising questions that never get answered.
Most of the acting also leans toward melodrama, but many of the supporting cast members — particularly Sharma and Zazie Beetz (as Detective Mel Harmony) — are commendable, delivering natural performances with the right doses of intimidation and snark.
On paper, the plot of “Full Circle” has all the pieces for suspense, but writer Ed Solomon seems to lack confidence in the viewer to figure it all out, opting against compelling revelations in favor of long-winded monologues summarizing everything for the viewer. This is needed, unfortunately, as most other dialogues are unproductive; consisting solely of characters responding to questions with more questions.
Another major point of contention is the portrayal of Guyana and the Guyanese community.
While The Hollywood Reporter suggests the team had several creative consultants, those with knowledge of the country could say the series actually offers a convoluted image.
The attention of Guyanese viewers like myself may pique hearing familiar words like pickney (children) and bad eye (evil eye) and catching glimpses of Georgetown. Those in Queens may smirk at the mention of real-life venue, Gemini’s Lounge, but other elements arguably come off as reductive and a bit unflattering.
The Guyanese characters are the antagonists. Mahabir is shown lying, cheating, stealing and plotting murders with a smile on her face. She doesn’t use facts or strategy to guide her actions, but Obeah practices and fear of curses.
The casting of these roles is also up for debate considering several staging choices were made by the creators.
For example, an early scene shows a Hindu funeral with a pandit reciting prayers and a chowtal (North Indian classical music) group sitting by in white kurtas and shalwars. This is a familiar sight for many Indo Caribbeans but, as the camera pans, audiences are introduced to several Afro-identifying actors playing the mourning family including Pounder and Jharrel Jerome (as Mahabir’s nephew, Aked).
Guyana is a diverse nation where cultures and racial identities often intermingle and, of course, there very well can be Afro-Guyanese Hindus with Indian names, but one could argue the series missed a huge opportunity to offer rare Indo Guyanese representation in these roles.
While Pounder (born in Guyana) and Jerome are talents with impressive resumes, it begs the question if they were the right talents for the roles. To some viewers, the answer is no.
“Guyana is trending right now. There’s the oil, the booming tourism, chefs on TV and Instagram,” shared Sonia, a young Indo Guyanese woman from Queens, reflecting on the show with me. “In that way, I’m happy [the country is] on people’s radar, but [it seems like] nobody looked into the characteristics of the people before casting. Some things are just not culturally correct. The Obeah is dubious and the Guyanese accents will leave you scratching your head.”
This reaction is not surprising. Aside from Pounder and Sharma, none of the cast is Guyanese, let alone Caribbean. In fact, Pounder shared in an interview that pages of the script were rewritten several times to play with Guyanese elements.
To be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators had difficulty finding actors for the characters, especially Indo Caribbean actors. But for those familiar with the country, “Full Circle” could appear to have haphazardly mixed the actors as well as bits and pieces from a variety of Guyanese cultures in an attempt to create a catch-all portrayal, rather than a necessarily accurate one.
Today, there are talks of not one, but two Jim Jones biopics starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt, respectively, but Guyana is more than the dark history of Jonestown or shady acts like those orchestrated by Mahabir.
Guyana is a country with a rich history, diverse culture and proud people. As one of the first high-profile Hollywood productions to highlight Guyana, it’s disappointing to see “Full Circle” fall into Jonestownian tropes of using it simply as a poverty-stricken place to be exploited, where people will do anything for money and personal gain.
While it’s exciting to see Guyana and the Queens community in a mainstream series and to hear Hollywood bigwigs utter names like Essequibo, “Full Circle” also exemplifies just how much room for growth there is in Indo Guyanese representation.
Hopefully “Full Circle” is just the first of many productions to explore Guyanese culture and, in the near future, we can escape the negative stereotypes that remain so prevalent. For the time being, the series is one that leaves a lot to be desired on many fronts.
Being a teenager is scary. Hormones, high school, trying to fit in — add to it a flesh-hungry demon from the Indian subcontinent and it becomes downright terrifying. At least, that’s what award-wining director Bishal Dutta’s debut feature “It Lives Inside” will have audiences thinking when it hits theaters on Sept. 22.
From the producers of several blockbusters including “Get Out” and “Us,” “It Lives Inside” stars Megan Suri as Samidha. Samidha is an Indian American teenager growing up in a quintessential small town, where she’s one of only a handful of South Asian faces at her school. She has a sweet, hardworking dad (Vik Sahay) and a caring, but stern mother (Neeru Bajwa). Both of them like their daughter home early to make prasad for prayers and insist no one whistles in the house, fearing it’ll attract evil spirits.
Much to her traditional mother’s dismay, when Samidha enters high school, she begins to resist her Indian culture. She prefers to be called “Sam,” and speak English, leaving her homemade lunch tiffins on the counter on her way out the door. Most significantly, she distances herself from her former best friend and fellow Indian, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan)
Tamira has become the center of school gossip carrying around an ominous black mason jar, dwelling beneath the gym bleachers. One day, she corners Sam in the locker room, begging her for help from the “monster” trapped in the jar, but Sam is rigid. Her desire to fit overcomes her emotions. Tamira storms out — and then mysteriously goes missing.
Little does Sam know, her childhood friend’s behavior and disappearance were brought on by the Piscacha — a flesh-eating Hindu demon drawn to negative energy — and Sam’s disbelief has just unleashed its terror back on her.
“It Lives Inside” is a breath of fresh air. It has the nostalgic backdrop of a 1980s teen movie (think “Sixteen Candles” or even “Halloween”) but adds the thrill of an exciting new monster for horror fans, and looks for the final girl.
Audiences have spent decades watching and screaming at faith-based horror stories like “The Exorcist,” “The Conjuring,” and “Carrie,” but “It Lives Inside” is the first of its kind for Hollywood, drawing from Hinduism for its frights.
Now, I can’t lie…when I first learned the story would be rooted in Hinduism, I was nervous. I worried that religion and culture may be used as a gimmick, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Dutta’s approach is reminiscent of Bisha K. Ali’s with “Ms. Marvel” on Disney+. Characters speak Hindi and we see South Asian religious practices, foods, and clothing displayed prominently, in a natural and authentic way that other groups can easily learn and understand. The culture merely rounds out the story, it’s not the main character or conflict.
The Piscacha, feeding on the despondence of its prey, may remind some of Vecna from season 4 of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but Dutta offers a fresh angle, alluding to the characters’ negative feelings toward their culture being the source of its power.
He offers South Asian American audiences relatable family dialogues and dynamics, but also steers clear of cliches like showing popular kids as mean or Sam’s American crush unlikeable.
“It Lives Inside” isn’t a horror movie you’ll lose sleep over, but that doesn’t mean it’s without palpable moments of fear.
Thanks to Dutta’s creative shots, smart pacing and sensory visuals, in addition to the emotion-packed acting of its cast, the film successfully makes your skin crawl and your jaw drop on several occasions.
The characters are smartly cast with several standouts. Suri is a welcome new face for the horror genre’s final girl and she delivers her role with the right amount of escalating fear and desperation. Meanwhile, Bajwa leans into hers with the passion you’d expect from a protective brown mom, though, at times, some of her Hindi dramatells come through.
“Get Out’s” Betty Gabriel is also noteworthy as Sam’s teacher Joyce and an early confidant. Her support of Sam was a refreshing break from the “this person must be crazy” trope we see so frequently in demonic films.
All that said, “It Lives Inside” does border on being formulaic. It follows a template and scares we have seen numerous times and ones that have done well historically.
But in its familiarity, it also manages to feel fresh. With its South Asian twist, the film proves that even formulaic horror films can find new life through diversity and inclusivity. It raises the idea that they have the potential to scare wider audiences and tell more spooky stories by exploring new cultures and casts.
While “It Lives Inside” is not perfect — the climax may leave you with a few lingering questions — it is a stylish and well-made film and a welcome piece of mainstream South Asian representation.
Recent past has seen South Asian stars delve into many different genres on television and the big screen, but horror has remained largely untouched. Thankfully, “It Lives Inside” has set the table for some brilliant South Asian-based horror films in Hollywood for years to come.
“It Lives Inside” made its world premiere at SXSW and has made its way through the film festival circuit. It will be released theatrically by Neon on September 22.
RedBison Productions, a New Jersey-based production house, announced their upcoming film “Sach Is Life” at a press event hosted at Goa Restaurant in New York City. The film draws inspiration from an extraordinary true story about a mother and her 3-year-old boy suffering from multiple dystrophy.
This project entailed over two years of extensive research and has resulted in an original story centered around a family who relocated from Kashmir to the United States to save their son fighting a daily battle with death and uncertainty.
“Sach Is Life” stars 2023 Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh(recognized for his work in “Rocket Boys,” also known for his roles in “Made in Heaven” and “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway,”) and Kirti Kulhari(known for her roles in “Four More Shots,” “URI,” “Pink,” and “Criminal Justice,”) in lead roles. “Sach Is Life” is produced by Rahul Bhat & Romila Saraf Bhat and written and directed by Harsh Mahadeshwar.
“We proudly introduce ‘Sach Is Life,’ a film based on extraordinary true events,” affirms Romila Saraf Bhat and Rahul Bhat, both producers of Red Bison Productions in Princeton, New Jersey, and Harsh Mahadeshwar, a writer and director in Houston, Texas.
“This is more than just a film, it’s a tribute to the invincible human spirit and the infinite potential that resides within each one of us. We are thrilled to collaborate with immensely talented actors Kirti Kulhari and Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh to bring this heartwarming story to life.”
“I’m extremely excited to collaborate with a crew from the U.S. and to work in an environment that’s different from how it’s done in India. I’ll do my best to make it a film that we all are going to be proud of,” said Kirti Kulhari, who will play the role of the mother. “Sach Is Life” also marks Kirti’s international debut.
Calling “Sach Is Life” an “incredibly uplifting” story, actor Jim Sarbh said he’s proud to be a part of this film.
“I am excited to be a part of this extremely heartwarming and inspirational story of resilience, dedication, and belief. Nothing moves me quite like a story of a family coming together to help one of their own achieve their dreams.”
“Sach Is Life” begins filming around April 2024, and will be shot in Kashmir, New Delhi, New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York.
About Red Bison Productions:
Red Bison Productions is based in Princeton, New Jersey, US, and demonstrates a strong and enduring dedication to the South Asian diaspora. Their mission is to bring global true-life stories to worldwide audiences.