When the movie The Martian first came out, my interest in seeing it was piqued when I realized that the writer Andy Weir, was a software engineer. He ended up self-publishing the book, because no publisher wanted to touch it. After it became popular on Kindle, Crown Publishing decided to publish it under their banner. When the book was finally made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott, it became a “must see.”
My interest in For Here or To Go was similarly piqued when I read that both the writer and director are Silicon Valley engineers. The movie itself came to fruition following the trajectory of a typical start-up. Instead of Powerpoint presentations, the writer Rishi Bhilawadikar and director Rucha Humnabadkar pitched to investors with the script and costing spreadsheets. When I asked Jayan Ramankutty why he decided to invest in this movie, he felt that the storyline had universal appeal. For the viewers in India who may think that America is purely a land flowing with milk and honey, this movie will serve a dose of reality. They get to see the struggles that South Asians go through as they try to earn a living and assimilate. For viewers in America (especially for those living in Silicon Valley), they can truly identify with the issues that the protagonist faces.
The movie is set in the backdrop of the 2008 recession. The movie centers on the work struggles of Vivek Pandit, played by Ali Fazal. He is poised to become a key hire at a promising healthcare startup. However, when they realize that his work visa has validity for less than a year, the offer disappears. Vivek draws upon his own ingenuity, struggles with flaws in the “its just paperwork” mentality and battles with forces beyond his control to get his visa extended. You find yourself rooting for Vivek to succeed not for some contrived reason (of being deemed a success in the eyes of his doting, forlorn mother in India), but because you want his courage, hope and doggedness to succeed.
The most appealing aspect of the movie to me was that it told multiple, believable stories of the diaspora as they face their own individual tussles- a daughter dealing with a father that is not available to her; an uncle trying to protect his hoodwinked nephew; an investor trying to convince his partner to give up on his idea of going back to India. The plot line draws on various characters to paint a mosaic of the immigrant experience. Omi Vaidya, who played Chatur Ramalingam in Three Idiots and Amitosh Nagpal provide the humorous interludes in the movie. The humor is not “forced” and is woven well into the script. In fact, the title of the movie comes from when Amit is asked the question “For here or to go?” by the clerk at a 7-11 store.
Just when Vivek is getting ready to give up and head back to India, he meets Shveta (played by Melanie Kannokada, former Miss India America). This motivates Vivek to fight the inane immigration system even harder. Rajit Kapur, known for his National Award-winning portrayal of The Making of the Mahatma plays the role of Vishwanath Prabhu, Shveta’s father. Vishwanath has just published a book that urges Indians in America to go back to India and help India succeed. He is passionate in delivering his message and steadfast in his strong views even when presented with an opposite point of view.
The movie has several breathtaking aerial views of Silicon Valley, including a beautiful aerial shot of the Golden Gate bridge. It also shows several familiar locations which residents of Silicon Valley will recognize.
For Here or To Go succeeds with wit and humanity. It is incredibly enjoyable and totally worth watching!