No recent film illustrates the late Roger Ebert's assertion that movies are "empathy machines" better than Rucha Humnabadkar's presciently salient English/Hindi comic drama "For Here or to Go?"
More than 1.5 million Indian immigrants working in the United States spend years, even decades, never knowing if they have a permanent home here, or will be sent back to their homeland because of twisted bureaucratic rules regarding work visas and green card requests.
"For Here or To Go?"★ ★ ★
Starring: Ali Fazal, Melanie Chandra, Omi Vaidya, Amitosh Nagpal
Directed by: Rucha Humnabadkar
Other: A Many Cups of Chai Films release. Not rated; contains adult language. 105 minutes
These immigrants are smart, innovative people like Vivek Pandit (Ali Fazal), a young Silicon Valley software engineer whose future takes a dive when San Francisco companies find out his work visa expires soon, so they will not give him the job he needs to qualify for the very visa he must have to remain in America. It's a 21st century version of "Catch-22."
Vivek wants to stay with his friends and co-workers, even though Indian leaders have launched a campaign to stop their nation's best and brightest from rushing to the U.S.
Written by Rishi S. Bhilawadikar, who has been living on a temporary visa since coming to America in 2005, "For Here or to Go?" operates like a hard news feature exposť examining the complicated plight of Indian immigrants.
Yet, it's funny, romantic, thoughtful, even silly, especially when Vivek and a gorgeous law student named Shveta (former Buffalo Grove resident Melanie Chandra) go on a date, then inexplicably break into a full-blown Bollywood musical dance scene.
The movie pulls no punches, either, especially when an Indian store owner remembers how Americans murdered Sikhs in the streets during post-911 hysteria.
"Life does not run on guarantees," Vivek's voice-over narration tells us. "It runs on hope." This movie runs on shameless optimism.
Its bubbly, yet overpoweringly sincere ending might strike some viewers as pure Hallmark card philosophizing. (Vivek narrates how India's spirit "has given me reason to do good, and strive for better.") Maybe.
In its own lighthearted way, "For Here or to Go?" does for Indian immigrants what Gregory Nava's "El Norte" did for Guatemalan immigrants, Jim Sheridan's "In America" did for Irish immigrants and, more recently, what Chris Weitz's "A Better Life" did for Mexican immigrants.
Humnabadkar, the "For Here" director who spent 14 years obtaining her U.S. citizenship, effortlessly bounces between humor and pathos in a story that strikes a chord with all audiences, even though its core message of reassurance targets Indians.
"If you were taller and better looking," Lakshmi (Omi Vaidya) tells Fazal's Vivek, "you could be a Bollywood star!"
Actually, Fazal is a Bollywood star, handsome and charismatic, although he fades into the scenery around his co-star Chandra, a 2003 Buffalo Grove High School graduate who holds a mechanical engineering degree from Stanford University, a second-degree black belt in Shotokan karate, the title of Miss India America 2007, and has been a regular cast member on the CBS TV series "Code Black."