Director: Danish Renzu
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Shweta Tripathi, Adil Hussain, Neelima Azim, Hannah Masi
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Danish Renzu’s The Illegal is a story of dreams. Many immigrants from across the world go to the USA – the land of opportunity for everyone. But many end up becoming victims to exploitation and oppression. Dreams being crushed by harsh realities of life is a devastating experience. Going through this is Hassan Ahmed (played by Suraj Sharma of Life of Pi fame) – an aspiring film student from Daryaganj, India who goes to study in the best film school in the world in Los Angeles, California.
His American dream is shattered as soon as he lands at his uncle’s small and meagerly lit house in LA. A small house with a beautiful and vast LA skyline in the background. This is how small big cities can make you feel. Hassan has to support himself by earning a living. He gets a job at an Indian restaurant. You are immediately invested in Hassan. Whether you want to become a filmmaker or not this is any Indian immigrant’s story. Suraj Sharma’s face has naivety which makes him look aspirational as well as vulnerable to exploitation.
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Hassan is a Fellini fan. Italian films like Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Federico Fellini’s 8½, and La Dolce Vita make appearances throughout the film. Hassan’s faculty at the film school notices the Fellini influence in Hassan’s work. Hassan has a command over visual storytelling, cinematography and screenplay. But the teacher warns, he’s not Fellini. He has to find his own voice. Hassan is devastated when he soon realizes that his film aspirations were foolish. Sharma’s eyes convey more than the spoken words. Haven’t seen any other Indian actors acting with his/her eyes so well except for Fahadh Fasil.
The Illegal is a gritty tale of how dreams can be shattered by harsh realities of life. Hassan’s journey from a bright and cheerful young boy to becoming a cynical, bitter man is heart wrenching to watch. His angst is so relatable that you are bound to draw parallels with your personal life. Writer-director Danish Renzu has woven together varying emotions with subtlety. He gives every supporting character depth, making you empathetic towards all of them.
Watch the trailer of The Illegal:
Sharma as Hassan Ahmed is brilliant. And so is Shweta Tripathi as his sister Mahi. Here’s an actress who knows how to do more with so less material. She did something equally good in Honey Trehan’s starkly slow but simply brilliant Netflix film Raat Akeli Hai (2020). Iqbal Theba and debutante Hannah Masi keep you invested in them in their brief roles.
Antonio Cisneros’ cinematography keeps things intimate and lived-in which are beautifully complemented by Eric Neveux’s score. Hassan Hassandoost and Angela Latimer’s editing keeps things moving so smoothly that you lose track of time. Renzu manages to transport you to LA in this poignant story of immigrants, dreams and life. It feels like it’s happening in front of you. Don’t miss this one. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video.