Pardes (Foreign Land), 1997, 191 min, Mukta Arts

Arjun eyes II If you like Joel Zwick’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), you will appreciate this movie. While Big Fat Greek Wedding is between two Americans of different sub-culture, Pardes is a story about Indians from two different cultures. There have been countless films about immigrants and collision of races, cultures, and classes. Movies that come to mind in recent past are Crash and Traffic, multi-character dramas about the illegal immigrant experience in Los Angeles. On a lighter note, there is Mira Nair’s film Namesake (2006) about a tale of a first generation son of traditional Indian immigrant parents. Remember the Oscar-nominated Dirty Pretty Things (2003) by Steven Knight? This was a thriller about a gruesome London underworld preying on the fear and desperation of immigrants. How about Guru (2002)?  Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer about Ramu (Jimi Mistry), a UK dance instructor who migrates to the US to become a film star but ended up becoming a sex guru for the rich and famous.  While we are not short of immigrant films, none has ever captured the generational cultural gap so sensibly as Pardes.

Anyone who has ever lived abroad, particularly the Third Culture kids, or first generation immigrants can relate to this movie. Leaving the heavy hit on Indian’s independence aside, Pardes is an insightful film about an immigrant’s dream to connect to his roots. What sets it apart from it predecessors is that it focuses on the invisible scars society leaves on first generations caught between two cultures. It attempts to address the cultural dislocation of migration, the chasm it creates between family members and the lingering emptiness that follows.  This is the burden first-generation immigrants carry to their grave.

The film also touches on the socio-political aspect of modern migration. Writer and director Subhash Ghai skillfully examines the cultural clash that arises, when people of the same ethnic background but different cultures come together. Ghai offers us multi-layered and equally sensitive characters for examination. He presents a slice-of-reality using his own unique brand of jaunty dialogue and stinging candor that we’ve come to expect from his films where every one-liner’s a real zinger and every disdainful human trait is exposed like a raw nerve.

The story is told from the father’s point of view, Mr. Kishorilal (played appropriately by Amrish Puri), a wealthy and successful businessman living in Southern California (feels more like Vegas, Nevada). He wonders how his American son can maintain dual identity without the identities dueling. This is a bold move for Ghai to open his movie in the voice of a 60-year-old dad, and I’m not sure it usually works: I would imagine it tends to isolate the youth. However, director’s commitment to identity politics never feels political, and it’s a sign of his confidence that you find yourself lost in the characters he’s building and the storyline that is about to unfold. Part of the movie’s brilliance is the way it juxtaposes the father’s determination not to lose his son culturally to the West against the reality of what his son has become. His obsession leads him arrange his son’s engagement with a country girl from India, a culture neither his son understands, nor relates to.  At the end you don’t know for whom to feel sorry, the father for trying too hard or for the son who can’t seem to get anything right. A stunning must-see drama, Pardes is proof that words have not lost the ability to shock our anesthetized society.  I can’t remember the last time I have felt so galvanized and moved by full sentences unadorned by profanity, guns and violence.


Ghai has taken an interesting and risky angle in telling the tale of an immigrant by taking a drastic stand on what it means to be an Indian,  albeit he played on the pride of Indian independence. Meet Rajiv (played by hunk Apurva Agnihotri), the rich and spoiled millionaire, vain and ultimately cruel. Like any pampered American, life revolves around him. Rajiv3Beyond his devastatingly good looks and the fact he speaks Hindi as a foreign language, Apurva actually embodies nothing of India.  More importantly, he has no interest in what is Indian.  Ghai spends a considerable time in formulating this. This portrayal is a hard pill to swallow for Indian immigrants and no doubt the movie must have polarized audiences more than any other film in recent years. How Indian (or any other nationality for that matter) are you expected to be if you were born and raised abroad be Dubai, Australia, UK or US? This is a question every first-generation immigrant struggles with. Ghai’s screenplay with acute attention to every nuance and dialogue, significantly deepens the nature of migration and its impact on generational families.

There’s a sublime perversity in director’s casting, especially that of Shahrukh Khan. Although he is not fashion-model handsome, Shahrukh manages to become irresistible and devastatingly handsome. From his mannerism to his attire, to his character, Arjun seems the unlikeliest of Don Juans. Even his suits look worn out hand-me-downs. But Shahrukh Khan is a master of body language and facial expression. His screen presence alone radiates seductive ardor. The beckoning gentleness of his stare divulges more without uttering a word and his lush full lips are enough to set off women in any audience. Arjun2Arjun1

In this film, he also brings a fascinating dimension to his character with honesty and integrity. Arjun’s character unfolds to show a kind, attentive, dependable, trustworthy and protective person emerging as the pillar of the family. What he does not have in looks and wealth, he makes it up with character underlining just how small a role physical beauty plays in attaining a woman’s love. For anyone who is still asking the century-old question as to what women want, look no further. While Rajiv’s money and wealth buys comfort and convenience, Arjun’s character brings security and protection a woman needs.

Like the saying goes, a man may make a house, but a woman makes a home. Meet village girl betrothed to Rajiv, Kusum Ganga, played by Mahima Chaudhry with astonishing vitality and vibrancy. She is indeed full of spirit and warmth with rich expressive eyes and smile that lights up like the sun. Her personality is every bit as Punjabi as the phulkari itself–rich as its colors, bold as its patterns and dense as its silk embroidery. It is amazing to watch her transform from a fun-loving country girl to a commanding woman. A sensual body and alluring eyes is what makes this village girl an irresistible woman. Ganga5Everything about her- full lips, high cheek bones, flashing whiskey eyes, and unbelievable body flushes with sensuality.  For some reason, she reminds of Sophia LoGanga6ren.  Although Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit were considered for the role of Ganga, Mahima Chaudhry finally got the part and amen to that.  Despite the fact that I am a fan of both Madhuri and Juhi, a new fresh face opposite of Shahrukh Khan did a lot of good for this movie.  Indeed what a screen presence! We definitely are not disappointed.

Favorite Scene

This is a scene where Ganga is venting about the fact that she just found out her fiancé has had an intimate relationship with is American woman, Kelley. Moreover, Kelly is still in Rajiv’s life and she apparently has more access to him than Ganga. Frustrated, Arjun Saagar asks her the kind of love she wants and she simply answers, ” The kind of love you give to people, that’s the kind of love I want! You’ve all mistaken me for some innocent little painting that you’ve framed in gold, and now you want me to hang on these walls in silence and become a part of this false decor! This isn’t the dream Ganga came to this foreign land with.” Ghai’s expert story telling lies in his subtle yet pungent style of communication. I have to admit, while some of the conversations sounded like a speech even sometimes preachy, Ghai also rewards our perception by engaging us. The characters not only are always in dialogue with each other and with the larger world we live in, transcending demographics and national boundaries. I also salute the director for not being afraid of headstrong, high-strung women characters; his films are built around them (Yaadein, Aitraaz, Yuvvraaj come to mind). Chip away the Teflon to reveal the aching people beneath his stories lie strong women and Ganga is one of them which is a delight to watch. Enjoy it because it is rare in Hindi movies; women generally just don’t rock the boat. I really enjoyed Ganga’s Punjab spirit, strength and zeal. And, you see that throughout the movie.


Film Track

Thanks to music director, Nadeem Shravan, the film track transcends time and place. You will not see the typical dazzling spectacle of Hindi music video or quick edits, flashy costumes, and breathtaking lights that generally enchants viewers. Rather, what is noticeable here is the use of many Indian musical elements, although the songs may have features of Western music.  Much of the melody is sourced from folk music.  The narrative moves into song sequence smoothly, without a drastic break on the drama, and the visuals of the songs add to the dramatic effect of the narrative.   Moreover, the songs give meaning to the images, and equally the images give meaning to the songs.  Nadeem Shravan has interwoven Ghai’s patriotic message wonderfully in the visual images of the songs (Meri Mehbooba, and more vividly in Nahin Hona Tha).  While I have to admit most of recent movie song formats are more or less like MTV pop video, which partially ignores the musical dimension and focuses only on the visuals, the lyrics of the this film’s song sequence are poetic and melodramatic enforcing the cultural depth and history of India.  Clever!

Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain sung by Kumar Sanu is Rajiv’s song as he gets seduced by this country girl in a “foreign land” masterminded by the cupid, Arjun.

Meri Mehbooba sung by Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik, is Arjun’s song, longing for a woman he loves (with English sub title).

Nahin Ho Na Tha is my favorite song. This is a song that embodies the meaning of the film. You also get a glimpse of the beautiful Islamic architecture of Fatehpur Sikri. The song is full of expression of Indian folk art befitting to this film (with English sub title).

My first Day in USA did not grab me;  it neither captures the spirit of California nor embodies its elements of a wealthy Californian.  The visuals were poor and were mainly of Vegas.  If I had to show one scene of USA, or a lifestyle of the rich, Vegas would not have been my destination.

Although I loved the lyric and the singer’s voice, I had an issue with I love India by Hariharan, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shankar Mahadevan and Aditya Narayan.  The problem is the positioning in the movie.  Granted that it is meant to be patriotic, if this is meant to be Dad’s song, it does not make sense when he has  built his wealth in the US and it has become home for his only beloved son.   Arjun would have been a better choice for its image not only because he is the song writer but also he has more connection to India.  But, it did not stop me for enjoying it.

Other songs include: Deewana Dil by Shankar Mahadevan, Sonu Nigam and Hema Sardesai; Jahan Piya Wahan Main by Shankar Mahadevan and Chitra; and the title music by Sapna Awasthi.

Here are all videos from Pardes I could find for your pleasure.  Otherwise, go to you tube channel  IsisBollywood and choose playlist “Pardes”.

Memorable Scene

Fatehpur Sikri has to be one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. It is full of history and memories of another day.

Castle 2

Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) came into being four centuries ago when a 28-year old Mughal Emperor Akbar, created the first planned city in Indo-Islamic style. It is actually a fort built during 1571 and 1585. It is believed that Akbar created imperial residences in Sikri in gratitude to the Muslim saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who had foretold the birth of Akbar’s son and heir, Jahangir. As a mark of his faith and his recent victories, he named his new city Fatehpur Sikri, the City of Victory. This site reveals the architectural master work. It is evident from the gardens, the palaces, harems, bathing pools and the residence complexes. Inside the complex the major points of interest are the Panch Mahal – the palace of Five Storeys, the Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chisti – where childless women come for blessings, the Buland Darwaza – the largest gateway in India, the Palace of Jodha Bai – Akbar’s Hindu queen, and the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. The Dargah is also known for its lattice work, one of the best in India.


Fatehpur Sikri was planned on a definite mathematical grid and is completely built from red sandstone which gives it the unbelievable glow during sunset. These red sandstone buildings lend themselves to the plummeting sun, and as the rays bounce off, the beauty of this ancient site leaves you feeling stunned. Fatehpur Sikri is a must see destination. You will enjoy being surrounded by what at one time would have been sheer opulence. It’s a world within a world.

Another great scene in this movie is Rishikesh, the place of sage. Cinematograher Kabir Lai gives us a scenic view of the river bank of Ganga. It is a hub for tourists who want to delve deeper into meditation and yoga. If you visit Delhi in February, you may get the chance to participate in International yoga week which attracts Yogis from around the world. Go and have a yogi blast. This is also a great destination for adventurous tourists, particularly for trekking expeditions and excursions in the Himalayas and rock climbing at nearby Kaudiyala. If you prefer water sports, the river offer rafting, kayaking and other water sports on the roaring Ganga. It is too bad we did not get to see Rajiv as being typically Californian; generally wealthy Californians seek seamless balance between work and play and enjoy to outdoor splendor of nature which is the core essence of California lifestyle (aside from Nightlife). This is one of my complaints about the film. While Rajiv looked the part, and he did not fit the part of California Boy. This is a missed opportunity for Ghai which would have made the character genuine and believable.  What is also noticeble in this movies is the lack of appreciation of US.  I am not sure I agree that in order to be patriotic, one has to demean others.  But, I will let you be the judge.  Grab the movie and let me know what you think.


Disclaimer:  Copyrights to images and music videos are owned by the respective publishers. Videos are published with the intention to encourage the larger audience to watch the film and give Hindi-impaired enthusiasts the chance to understand the lyrics without it would have been not only unbearable to watch but also missed opportunity to appreciate the utter beauty of poetry in Hindi songs. Unfortunately, nearly all publishers and studios do not post their videos with English subtitles not to mention they don’t allow video embedding (so much for viral marketing). Removing these videos or images therefore serves no purpose.



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