'The Illegal' gives reality check on lives of immigrants in US: Director Danish Renzu

·4-min read

Mumbai, Mar 23 (PTI) When filmmaker Danish Renzu migrated to the US from Srinagar for higher studies fifteen years ago, he soon realised the stark contrast between the aspirational American dream and the difficult on-ground reality, which later helped him shape up his latest 'The Illegal'.

In 'The Illegal', Renzu, 35, traces the lives of immigrants through his protagonist Hassan, a film student in the United States, who is forced to drop out to support his family back home.

In the process, Hassan -- played by 'Life of Pi' star Suraj Sharma -- ends up becoming an undocumented worker, trying keep his filmmaking dream alive.

In a Zoom interview with PTI, the Los Angeles-based director said 'The Illegal' is a story, which aims to give a platform to those who have so far been denied the spotlight.

'The film gives a reality check on the lives of immigrants in the US. It's important for audience to empathise with Hassan's journey, his fight against the system and obstacles.

'The aim is to look at these characters who are otherwise overlooked, to give them a platform to showcase their stories.' When his friend moved to the US for higher studies in 2006, Renzu shifted to Los Angeles to pursue engineering from University of California (UCLA).

At 19, Renzu was juggling studies with a job at a restaurant and doubling up as a math tutor.

The student life experience, Renzu said, helped him realise that the reality of the American dream he saw growing up in Jammu and Kashmir was far from rosy.

It involved watching friends and acquaintances compromise on not only their ambitions, but also on their living, he said.

'It was quite an experience, because the way I had imagined American dream, it wasn't like that at all. It was difficult, different and not just the glitter and glamour of Hollywood Boulevard.

'I graduated from the college but there are people I know of who have been working there at restaurants since 20-25 years. They had to drop out from college because they had to provide for their families back in their countries,' he added.

According to Renzu, 'The Illegal' is dedicated to those people who faced all possible obstacles but didn't give up on their dreams.

'With the film, I thought the stories of the unsung heroes had to be told.' Post college, Renzu landed a job at the American multinational AT&T. While he worked there for five years till 2015, he continued to nurture his movie making aspiration, which began as a childhood hobby.

'I've been obsessed with movies since my childhood. I remember watching 'Ishq' in a theatre in Jammu and was fascinated. I watched the film twice in theatres as I absolutely loved the big screen experience. I would shoot videos of friends and family on my Handycam as a hobby.' While working, Renzu enrolled in a screenwriting programme at the UCLA, where he wrote the first rough draft of 'The Illegal' in 2010.

But the film didn't materialise till seven years later. During the period, the director worked on several short films and made his feature debut with Kashmir-set 2017 drama 'Half Widow'.

Renzu said he wrote 'The Illegal' keeping Sharma in mind.

Delhi-born Sharma graduated from a film school in New York around 2017, the same year the film went into production.

Renzu recalled discussing the film with the actor, who brought in his student life experiences.

'He also lived the immigrant life as a student. The script was written with him in mind. He was so thrilled when he read the script. It was tailor-made for him - we wanted a Delhi guy who was based in the US. He was just perfect,' the filmmaker said.

'The Illegal' travelled to several film festivals across the world in 2019, including Mumbai International Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, and the Asian World Film Festival, Los Angeles before the coronavirus pandemic halted its release in India last year.

Also starring Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Adil Hussain, and Neelima Azeem, the film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Renzu said the film went through a rollercoaster journey to land a release, but he is thrilled that it found a home in the streamer.

'The entire cast, right from the start, had this belief that this is a story that needs to be told. We were at it and never gave up. It's miraculous how everything panned out. It has finally found a platform for the wider audience,' he added. PTI JUR RDS RDS