New York based Emmy-nominated filmmaker and actor Tirlok Malik is best known for making films about Indian immigrants in the US. His pioneering work, Lonely in America (1990), was shown in 74 countries (as well as on HBO), and participated in 37 film festivals, winning several awards. He subsequently made films like Love Lust and Marriage (1996), Khushiyaan (2011), and On Golden Years (2016). Malik has also acted in films like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000), Lajja (2001), Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006), Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007), Sivaji: The Boss (2007), and Mehbooba (1976), among others. He is also the line producer (USA) of several Bollywood films.
His latest film, To New India with Love (2021) recently premiered on the YouTube channel of nritvfilmclub, following which it will be released on television and various digital platforms worldwide. It tells the story of a young college student, Vijay, who asks a visiting NRI professor to help him go to America. The professor reminds him that he must play his part in contributing to the New India that is in the making. Vijay does not agree and expresses his frustrations and current struggles, proclaiming that New India is all about faking.
A non-commercial venture, the short film is produced with a public-service spirit, appealing broadly to Indians worldwide. Apart from Malik himself, the film also stars Aryan Pratap Singh and Dalip Maccune. It is presented by Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh. Its screenplay and dialogues are written by film critic turned screenwriter Murtaza Ali Khan.
Tell us about the idea, inspiration behind your latest film To New India with Love.
TM: The germ of the story idea for the film comes from real-life experiences of mine and many other NRIs who often get asked by the youth of India to help them move abroad for better work prospects. It is aimed at empowering India’s youth. The heated debate at the heart of the film shows how sometimes a conversation can change the direction of one’s life. Many young people want to leave India, but all of them cannot get visas. Moreover, migration is a choice that one makes and there is an emotional price associated with it. So, it is really up to an individual. My film aims at creating greater awareness about the role that NRIs can play in mentoring the Indian youth to help them create greater opportunities for themselves. Our film has struck a chord with audiences worldwide.
What experiences of yours as an Indian-American immigrant shape your identity, the films you make, and the themes about the Indian diaspora that you project in them?
TM: Whenever one migrates to a new country, there is an emotional price that one pays. One is constantly looking for an anchor to hold on to. That’s the underlying reality that has helped shape my identity as an Indian-American filmmaker. All my feature films are about migration conflicts and their effects on human feelings.
My film Lonely of America is about a young Indian man trying to realize the American Dream and the conflicts that come with it. Love Lust Marriage deals with the alienation that an Indian couple experiences owing to their busy lives while chasing the American Dream. Khushiyaan is about a highly driven architect living in New York City who is haunted by a lingering feeling that he must return to his small village in Punjab to make peace with his aging parents. When we migrate to a country, we tend to think that when the time comes to retire, we will go back to India. But, the reality is that we can’t go back. On Golden Years explores the lives of Indian-Americans post-retirement, their emotional highs, and lows.
The underlying theme of To New India with Love comes with the experience of having lived the life of a migrant for decades. One knows well that there is an emotional price that one has paid. Besides, it’s not possible for everyone to move abroad. What if your family can’t support you financially? What if you are not highly qualified? What if you are unable to secure a scholarship to support yourself? So what does one do in this situation? To New India with Love shows how youngsters can create opportunities for themselves while living in India by utilizing the guidance and wisdom of NRIs.
Who or what are your biggest creative influences?
TM: Some people inspire you with their knowledge and craft while others inspire you with their affection and warmth. I have been fortunate enough to have met and worked with some of the biggest names in the world of entertainment, such as Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Yash Chopra, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Al Pacino, Spike Lee, William Hurt, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Mammootty, Deepti Naval, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Sanjay Dutt, Manisha Koirala, and Rani Mukherji, among others. Each encounter with these personalities has been quite memorable, inspiring me in one way or the other during the course of my journey as a filmmaker and actor over the years.
Which are some of your favorite films about Indian immigrants?
What role do you feel NRIs can play in mentoring the Indian youth to help them create greater opportunities for themselves?
TM: Depending on their skill set and experience, NRIs can mentor the Indian youth. An aspirant can seek out a mentor/guide depending on his area of interest. A platform like Startup India is custom-made for this. We are talking about 30 million NRIs living across the globe, so the opportunities are immense.
Do you have any your upcoming films?
TM: On my upcoming projects, I will be working on various socially relevant themes. I currently have two feature films and two short films in development (one each in India and the US).
One of the scripts that I am currently working on will be the final chapter of Lonely in America. It will be a multi-starrer just like Khushiyaan. The story revolves around an aging NRI who has some unfinished business in India. I wish to work with Jitendra ji and Dharmendra ji with whom I have had the pleasure of doing a few commercials for an American food company. My story also has younger leads for which I have the likes of Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Alia Bhatt, and Kiara Advani in mind. For another pivotal role in the film, I would like to cast either Varun Sharma or Krushna Abhishek.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.