Brighton Festival 2016
A timely documentary examining an Indian doctor’s “Video diaries” and “audio letters” from England to back home, from the Sixties to the present day.
With all the flurry and excitement of the live acts during the Brighton Festival and Fringe, it can be easy to forget that there are Moving Image pieces being presented which complement the festival themes perfectly. I for India was a good example of this – a fascinating film, put together using footage taken during the 1960s and right up to the present day by an Indian doctor, Dr. Yash Pal Suri, and his growing family.
The film explores how he came to the UK to study advanced medicine, and rather than writing letters back home he purchased two sets of film equipment – sending one set back to his family in India. What followed was a fascination exchange of news, ideas and visual images depicting the two different cultures and documenting how the gap between the split family grew increasingly larger over time. What is really insightful is the fact that Dr. Suri never intended to stay in the UK. The plan was to always return to India, but as the young family settle down and grow (they have three daughters) the ties to their homeland become increasingly frayed. It was fascinating to watch the family grow and develop, and to see the progress of the children who were born in England. Eventually, the family try moving back to India, but it doesn’t work – they had been gone to long, and, despite being a very respected Consultant in the UK, the doctor’s qualifications meant little in India. At one point there’s a sense of the couple having lost their cultural identity and set adrift – no longer able to reintegrate back into an Indian lifestyle yet not quite fully integrated into British society.
Interspersed with this was footage from public information films and TV programmes made during the 1960s, aimed at welcoming new immigrants – which came across as shocking, condescending and, frankly, downright insulting. One clip for instance was showing how to use a light switch – but gave no credit for any intelligence at all on behalf of the intended viewer. These, and other news clips, serve to show how little the conversation has moved on in the past 50 years regarding immigration. Even today Britain seems to be gripped by the fear of “the other”.
Director Sandhya Suri’s film captures the raw honesty of her family and the heartbreak of being separated from loved ones. It’s overall power lies in examining the multifarious reasons why people travel abroad to live and work and puts a human face of the “swarms” of immigrants that move around the world.
It was interesting to note that the only family ever referred to in India was Dr. Suri’s family – his wife’s relations were never referred to – did she ever see her family again? We will never know. There is, undoubtly, a melancholy air that permeates throughout the film, tinged with that ever-present hope of a better life elsewhere.
I isn’t just for India, but for immigrants, intelligence and insight. Hopefully it will go a long way in combating that most pernicious of all “I’s”: ignorance.
The film was a perfect accompaniment to Nutkhut’s Dr. Blighty installation at the Royal Pavilion, documenting the period when Indian soldiers were housed there during the First World War. The bonds between India and Britain are still as strong as they ever were, only on very different terms today.
(Guest Review by Tim Pilcher)