The Illegal, the 2019 Indian-American English film written and directed by Danish Renzu and starring Suraj Sharma in the lead along with Adil Hussain and Shweta Tripathi, will premiere on March 23 on Amazon Prime Video.
Speaking to Silverscreen India, Renzu said the film is a “very relevant and universal story” about an Indian immigrant hailing from New Delhi who aspires to become a filmmaker but lands in a trap where he has to give up his dream. He hopes to find courage to fight the obstacles and fights his problems as a filmmaker.
Born in Kashmir, Renzu went to the US to pursue his dreams of becoming a filmmaker. His first venture, a short film, centred around a Pakistani woman; while his second short film was based a South Asian woman. His first feature film, Half Widow, centred around a Kashmiri woman
“The way I had imagined America and what I saw was very different,” he said.
Though it is a piece of “fiction”, Renzu said, “A film always comes from your own personal experiences that inspire you to write stories like these.”
While he was an aspiring filmmaker in the US, Renzu said he took up other jobs, including working at a restaurant. It was here that he met many fellow immigrants, some who were working for 20-25 years at the restaurant. He said their stories were “shocking” as they had to drop out of college because of financial difficulties, and later became “undocumented” workers.
“This film is for those people who are trying to see the other side of American dream, appreciate those stories of people and their courage and resonance for sacrificing their dreams to take care of their families back at home, something that people do not know of, something they haven’t seen,” Renzu said.
He said he wanted to show this side of America through his protagonist Hassan, played by Sharma.
“The film is an empathetic ode to dreamers and people who have aspirations to become someone, who go to these big countries, big cities to pursue their dreams, about their struggles, what they go through, how difficult it is for them who belong to middle-class families- not everyone is able to have a perfect ideal American dream,” Renzu said.
According to Renzu, the film is “more of a humanistic approach”.
Hassan is a smart “dreamer” and an aspiring filmmaker, who reaches the US from New Delhi but is not able to make it.
Talking about the film’s casting, Renzu said he had Sharma in mind while writing the script after watching his performance in Life of Pi.
“He has a very poetic face, you don’t need dialogues for Suraj Sharma, he just flows with any emotional scene you give him. He speaks through his eyes, he was always my first choice. After finishing the script, I reached out to him directly and he right away said yes as he had just graduated from film school in New York a week before the script finished. Since he was also pursuing filmmaking, it connected to him right away,” Renzu said.
Speaking about the female characters, Renzu said that Tripathi plays the role of Hassan’s sister, who is very supportive and encouraging.
The Illegal has been across the US and in New Delhi.
Shortlisted for the Best Picture category for the Oscar nominations, The Illegal premiered at the 2019 Austin Film Festival under the official feature narrative section. The film won several awards, including at the Mumbai International Film Festival (Special Award for Discovering India), Vancouver South Asian Film Festival (Best Feature Critics Choice), Austin Film Festival, DC South Asian Film Festival (Best Film Jury Mention), and DC South Asian Film Festival (Best Feature Audience Award).