Umrika Review: A Bleak American Dream

Posted on 27 September, 2016 by Team Wishberry

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Written and directed by Prashant Nair, Umrika is an ambitious coming-of-age story of a young Indian boy who at a tender age begins nurturing the American Dream after his brother takes off to America.

The film opens grainy and smudged in a remote Indian village (Jitvapur) in the 1970s  where young Ramakant’s older brother Udai (Prateik Babbar) is leaving his family behind to work in America. While the whole village has gathered to see him off, the boys’ mother (Smita Tambe) can barely contain her grief, and she makes her son (Udai) promise to write to her often.

After a few weeks of absolutely no communication from Udai, his letters finally arrive and the whole village wants to know what ‘the land where anything can happen’ really is like. All the words in the letter supported with magazine cutouts speak of how wonderful America truly is, their cows are healthier, their wrestlers are bigger, and their commodes would suck the mess right in. Years pass, and the residents of Jitvapur begin nurturing their own American Dream in the midst of their daily activities.

Then tragedy strikes and the boys’ father (Pramod Pathak) passes in an accident. After which, the now grown up Ramakant (Suraj Sharma) while rummaging through his things finds hints that the letters from Udai may not be from him at all. His beloved brother seems to have disappeared or stuck in some deep trouble. Rama thus decides to follow his brother’s tracks to bring him back home with the help of his friend Lalu (Tony Revolori).

Umrika is ambitious but lacks heart and motive. While the first-half of the film is engaging, bright and warm, with its focus on family life, the second-half is unevenly paced, dark and stressful. While it does give you a glimpse into the 80s crime-ridden industry that smuggled migrants across the world, the context is majorly flawed. Yes, Indians in the 70s and 80s were obsessed with migrating to a better place, but it was the educated upper class that tried their luck to make a living in the U.S. or U.K. The undereducated and unskilled masses targeted daily wage jobs and migrated mainly to the Arab countries of Dubai or Saudi Arabia and even to developing Asian nations. This flaw affects the authenticity of the entire narrative rendering it reproduced and cliched.

Moreover, the screenplay is overrun by numerous flaws. The boy living in America is feeding his impoverished family rich stories but no dollars, and not a soul finds that strange. The father while sending letters as Udai, also sends a package with an American piggy bank that no Indian village in the 70s would have access to. Ramakant meets his brother after what looks like 10 years, but Udai hasn’t aged a single day.

The performance of all actors, however, saves the day. Suraj Sharma, who starred in Life of Pi, and Tony Revolori, of the Dope fame, are both wonderful actors and play believable small-town-boy roles to perfection. Dustin O’Halloran’s music blends well with the scenic beauty of India, even the costume design by Nyla Masood is genuine to the 80s theme.

Even with every person on the cast bringing their best out, the film is painfully underwritten and fails to have you empathise with the lead. This is a film that could’ve been so much more, but its inconsistency leaves a lot more to be desired instead.

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