By E. J. Wickes
Image (above) Ram Gopal Bajaj and Pankaj Tripathi from “Mango Dreams”
“We were united then. ‘Independence’ divided us.”
I admit it. I’m a Westernized American Capitalist who just recently learned the difference between the “Bollywood” film industry and independent filmmaking from India. I got schooled. See, Americans aren’t that enamored by Indian films for the most part. In all fairness, the same could be said of most Americans whenever it concerns international or art house cinema in general. “This is ‘Merica Dammit! We like our whiskey straight and our TVs loud! And we don’t often mix deep social consciousness, honest history, or gender and class issues with our blockbusters!” (But when we do, it’s magnificent.)
I find myself looking more and more into Indian History each time I see an Indian film. So much of their work has to do with their cultural and societal evolution. A history of class struggle, compounded with British colonizers and a global economy lusting for cheap access to a land rich with resources and industrious people. And of course, a vast religious divide which has separated friends and family, through the best of political intentions.
Mango Dreams is is a story that begins with two friends who became separated at youth by a simple childish argument. Only to have a wall driven between them for almost a lifetime of regret, by the partitioning between India and Pakistan.
Filmmaker and Director, John Upchurch is a storyteller from the rural farmlands of North Carolina. Surprise! And believe it or not, this is his first feature film. John’s always had an affinity for Indian, (Hindi or Bengali) films. In his own words he says, “Growing up, the best entertainment could always be found at the feet of local storytellers; my grandparents, the farmers at the hardware store, my barber, etc. I love how their stories sparked my imagination, opened my mind to new ideas, and encouraged me to care about the world around me.”
The good and kind Doctor Amit Singh played by Ram Gopol Baja, survived the partitioning but not without severe emotional angst and regret. As his age and dementia sets in he is driven by a need to return to his homeland to find closure, finally after all these years. Amits’s memories are haunted by the massacre of his family by Muslims and the guilt he feels for the death of his brother. Before dementia sets in completely he begins a race against time to return to his past and find peace.
Amit’s son, Abhi, (Samir Kochhar), who lives in America, comes home to see that his father is efficiently “entombed” in the old folks home for his own welfare. Amit makes a break for it and happens across an auto-rickshaw driver named Salim (Pankaj Tripathi), a Muslim with his own history. Salim’s wife sadly; ironically, was raped and burned to death by Hindus. An early connection brings them to this impasse. Dr. Amit once saved Salim’s son’s life and as a poor man with a conscience, Salim has always been ready to repay that debt in some reciprocal way.
Amit asks a favor of Salim and that is, to take him “home”. Salim agrees but has no idea where home is. He only gets directions and distances that lead him farther and farther away from his own destination, and what’s worse, the entire trip is for free! Salim being a man of his word and wishing to pay his debt, becomes torn between his promise and what’s reasonable. This is an “Odd Couple” story as well. Different religions; different appetites and different desires. Two lives so much in parallel with each other, but on opposite sides, like a reflection in a mirror.
This is an incredible journey between two men who have had severe trauma and sadness dealt to them. The sharing of their life stories, their youthful escape from some mischief on the road and the comradery they feel for each other lets us know that empathy and respect for our fellow man and woman are still within reach, and that a better world awaits us all with just a little tolerance, understanding and cooperation from each of us.
The cinematography is very well done. The scenes are shot tightly and edited with precision. The film moves along at a lively pace and only slows when it needs to. The dynamic between Amit and Samir is inspiring and humorous to watch, as any meeting of opposite polarities might attract. And isn’t that the secret between the meeting of cultures? An exchange of ideas; a transfer of perspectives and thought. Did we just solve all the world’s problems right now? [Wink-emoticon!]
E. J. Wickes is a visual artist and the Managing Editor of Cult Critic Film Magazine, as well as the creator and publisher of The Metamodern Magazine. His aesthetics lie somewhere in the vortex between fine art painting and filmmaking. Eric has worked in the Art Department on a variety of Hollywood, TV and independent film productions and as the Creative Director of HLC Studios, he oversees the company’s media and publishing division.