A comedy-drama film about a fractured Sikh Canadian family, Agam Darshi’s directorial debut, Donkeyhead, follows how the main character, Mona, also played by Darshi, has been her father’s caretaker for seven years after he got diagnosed with cancer—but when her father falls into a coma, her three siblings come back to their hometown to say goodbye.
Perhaps archetypes exist for a reason—they are rooted in reality. But despite being billed as a complex story following four unique siblings, Donkeyhead seems to fall into tired stereotypes too often, with accomplished older siblings, a “golden” brother with a secret, and a black sheep sibling. For example, eldest sister Sandy(Sandy Sidhu), whose character gets little to no development, is a type-A doctor and mom, elder brother Rup,(Husein Madhavji), is a wealthy real estate agent with a seemingly perfect marriage, while Mona’s twin Parminder (Stephen Lobo), is also a doctor and their father’s favorite child, but is hiding a secret from his family. Mona, in contrast to her siblings, is an out-of-work writer who still lives at home and is seen as the “mess-up” of the family. The issue with these characters is not the premise—families do have siblings that mirror the ones in Donkeyhead—but rather that Donkeyhead did not do anything different with these characters. From the start of the movie, I could easily guess the major plot points—even what Parminder’s secret was.
Donkeyhead aims to put a spotlight on the complicated dynamics of an immigrant family, but it falters in doing so. Mona, whose story was promising, is trapped by being her father’s caretaker, due to her tenuous relationship with her father, as well as a lack of success. As a result, she rebels against the Sikh culture in both small and large ways: by openly disagreeing with Sikh elders in her community, and by having an affair with a married man. Throughout the movie, Mona is falling apart—and it is very easy to empathize with her for doing so. However, her story ends with a predictable moment of self-realization. Mona’s story is reminiscent of all of Donkeyhead—it is not bad per se, but it is boring.
This predictable nature is not helped by the script either: there are several cheesy moments in Donkeyhead. For example, the siblings’ big bonding moment was when they all sang Canada’s national anthem in a bar—a plot point that is both unrealistic and slightly cringeworthy. Moreover, Mona constantly refers to her and Parminder as “close as Siamese twins”—despite the twins clearly drifting apart.
There are some bright spots in Donkeyhead— Darshi’s performance as Mona is enjoyable to watch, for example. Donkeyhead’s premise is interesting—there is so much to explore about Mona’s role as the sole caretaker of her father. However, Donkeyhead needed something more—a twist, or more character development. Instead, it just falls flat.
Pavana Upadhyaya is a junior at Leland High School and an intern at India Currents. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and playing the piano.