This 2003 movie starring Shahrukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta is everything you imagine desi culture to be in the land of opportunity, America. A Gujarati businessman who’s a millionaire by selling papads? Check. A family running an Indian-food café? Check. Cool kids with families nursing Indian values? Check, and check. Set in New York, the film is a beautiful representation of the diverse cultures of the city, with the protagonists doing both bhangra and salsa on the streets. And who can forget a winsome Shahrukh Khan crooning the title track while walking down Brooklyn Bridge?
– Lubna Amir
Director Gurinder Chadha’s Indianised adaptation of Jane Austen’s celebrated novel, Pride and Prejudice, holds onto all the drama of the original, but the exceptional quality of her film is the extra dollop of laugh-out-loud comedy—lathered on with the panache of a Punjabi chef bathing an aloo paratha in butter. Much of the movie’s humour swivels around the orb of the Indian diaspora, be it an overzealous nagin dance in Amritsar, the sultry eyes of a shirtless American millionaire gazing longingly at Lalita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) while playing cricket on a Goan beach, or the gag-worthy imaging of a Los Angeles NRI’s leopard print boxers.
– Julian Manning
In 2020, it’d be easy to recap Bend It Like Beckham as a feel-good ethnic comedy piloted by a soup of South Asian immigrant clichés, which then make room for progressive values and sweet culture synthesis. And while it may be exactly that, Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 hit is special for having used the very specific (and very delightful) Punjabi-Sikh-family-in-London-suburbs trope to shine a light on sports and feminism—none traditional sellers in the film industry. Football-crazy Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) dreams of playing for Manchester United. And much to her parents chagrin and her wedding-ready sister’s disappointment, her unfeminine world hinges around the belief, “Nobody bends it like Beckham”—a reference to the star-footballer’s footwork. With her new best friend Jules (Keira Knightly) and coach-crush Joe (Jonathan Rhys Myers) in the mix, and the possibility of playing for local women’s team Hounslow Harriers, the 18-year-old must shuttle between Jesminder and Jess, as her two worlds collide like never before.
– Sohini Das Gupta
A seminal turning point for global Islamophobia has been the 9/11 attacks in New York, and this 2010 movie is one of few that deal with it sensitively. Shahrukh Khan is in the titular role of a Muslim boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, who has seen both Hindu-Muslim riots in his native Bombay, and then faced devastating loss as a part of Islamophobia in U.S.A. His journey throughout the country to prove “his name is Khan, and he is not a terrorist,” is what gives the movie its heart. A bit over the top, and possibly oversimplified with the good people and bad people rhetoric, the movie still manages to show parts of America not often shown in glamorous Bollywood movies: living in a Georgian town with a Black family, being hot on a presidential campaign trail, and small-town American life, all set against a backdrop of Sufi music.
– Lubna Amir
Mira Nair’s 1991 film, Mississippi Masala, is part romance, part social commentary on the politics of race and colour—and remains relevant even three decades later. Jay’s (Roshan Seth) family of Indian descent have always called Uganda their home. But in 1972, when Asians were exiled from the country, he is forced to leave Kampala and immigrate to Mississippi in the U.S., with his wife Kinnu (Sharmila Tagore) and daughter Minu. Feelings of deep-seated hostility and betrayal are harboured beyond borders. Fast forward to 1990, the family lives and works at a shabby roadside motel, shared and run by fellow South Asian immigrants in a predominantly black neighbourhood. What initially appears to be a life of cultural harmony, soon paves way for bigotry when a rebel-with-a-cause Minu (Sarita Choudhary) falls for Demetrius (Denzel Washington), an African American owner of a carpet-cleaning company. This is just one part of the Indian family’s complicated relationship with America. And in this case, love is colour blind. The movie touches upon only a flicker of the Deep South’s landscapes: open parks, jazz bars and weekend getaways at a beach. But it’ll stick with you for its warmth and a few of its iconic dialogue deliveries such as “Black, brown, yellow, Mexican, Puerto Rican, we’re all the same. All us people of colour must stick together.”
– Pooja Naik
In this wild and witty saga of a ‘Desi Idol’ singing competition, hosted in New Jersey, a plethora of competitors across the USA’s vast South Asian population show up ready to give us a show, on and off the stage. Director Manish Acharya makes sure plenty of great Bollywood ballads make the cut of this amateur showcase, sponsored by an Indian pork-loin magnate. The diversity of characters really leans into the eclectic variety of the Indian diaspora: there is the thepla-totting Patel family (some with a penchant for hotel porn) supporting their talented daughter; a cut-throat ‘philanthropist’ channelling her inner demon-auntie to win first place; and a gay, beatboxing rapper eager to add a little masala to this already magnetic mixture.
– Julian Manning
The yellow mustard fields of Punjab, a vacation in Switzerland, and feeding pigeons at Trafalgar Square in London—ask anyone what they think of when Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is mentioned, and it would be at least one of these three. Not surprising then, that at Mt. Titlis in Switzerland there’s a popular photo spot which has an installation of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol from the movie. With a love story that won over the country, this iconic movie also drove home the message that one does not simply forget Indian values while living in a foreign land, albeit a bit forcefully. Re-watch it for the old-school romance, and the lovely opening montage of Amrish Puri walking through the streets of London.
– Lubna Amir
“I came here once and afterwards had dreams. The low sky, red earth and brown water made me feel humble and ecstatic,” writes Rahul Bhattacharya in this lyrical memoir, about his decision to quit a cricket journalism gig in Mumbai and escape to Guyana for a year. Bhattacharya’s fascination with the island has the flush of first love. Every evocation of its dilapidated housing, rhythmic patois and sweaty hustle is swooning. But Bhattacharya reserves his most precious prose for its eccentric characters, including most memorably, the local raconteur or gyaffman—Lancelot ‘Uncle Lance’ Banarsee.
– Lakshmi Sankaran
By the time Gautam Malkani’s debut about four rowdy Punjabi rude boys arrived on the scene, the diaspora playbook was bookended by bubble gum Karan Johar films and erudite Jhumpa Lahiri-types. Ripping up the old template, Malkani writes of the London pind–Hounslow—where Jas and his buddies drive around in pimped-up rides, comparing “bling-bling” jewellery and trash talking goras in street slang. Jas’s angst could rival Holden Caulfield’s; here’s how he describes the trees in Hounslow: “Castrated an no pubes.” Londonstani does not drip with wonder like most immigrant tales but it dives into that disaffected quarter of London which rarely makes the tourist pamphlet.
– Lakshmi Sankaran