“I For India” follows a family as they emigrate from India to England and the various methods they try to keep in contact with the family members they left behind. Frustrated with poor phone service and the slow postal system, Yash Suri purchased two super-8 film cameras, two reel-to-reel tape recorders and two film projectors. He kept a set for himself and sent the other set back to India so that he and his family could communicate photographically. Over the next 40 years, Yash filmed his family growing up, as did his family back home. At first, the films both he and his family made for each other are touching, optimistic and generally happy. As the years go on however, the sadness of not seeing each other is clearly evident, as the films (and the messages associated with them) become increasingly heartbreaking. Director Sandhya Suri (Yash’s daughter) compiles the super-8 footage with interviews from her parents describing the events going on behind the films.
The end result isn’t just a piece about the communication between families living countries away from each other, it is also follows their struggles with immigration. The arrived in England in the 60s, a time the country was going through a huge immigration shift. Based on some of the television programs the BBC aired at this time (which Suri brilliantly exploits in this film as well) England felt this as trouble. Some of these shows geared themselves towards Indian and Pakistani immigrants, showing them the fundamentals of modern living (such as what a light switch does when you flick it).
After living in England for 18 years, they decide to make their way back to India. At first, it’s great since they are no longer separated from their family members but that lengthy separation prevents the Suri’s from feeling back at home in India, making things even harder for them.
The mixture of Yash’s old super-8 footage and Sandhya’s interview footage is never overly sentimental or preachy. It’s refreshing to see the Suri’s so open to exposing their tribulations so frankly. “I For India” is stylistically setup like last year’s “Tarnation” but not as hectic or dramatic. Sandhya Suri (and even her father Yash) have a good eye for cinematic quality, the footage never looks bland. That, mixed with an equally compelling story, makes for a great documentary.