Festival of Lights – 2010

In her feature film debut Shundell Prasad takes on the tasks of both writer and director. The story centers on a family emigrating from Guyana to America during the 1980’s. Gangs run rapid, there are numerous kidnappings and rapes; forcing families to make difficult choices in order to survive. Vishnu played by Jimi Mistry (The Guru, Blood Diamond) tries to move his wife and daughter to New York. Unfortunately for Jimi he is unable to move due to his criminal background. His wife Meena reluctantly takes their 5 year old daughter Reshma to America. The film fast forwards thirteen years later where we are presented quite a different landscape from where the film started.

Meena has remarried to her employer Adem played by Aiden Quinn (Elementary) and they have a daughter together named Sandy. Reshma now played by Melinda Shankar (Degarassi: The Next Generation) is a rebellious teenager who misses her father in Guyana and has quite a distain for her new family. The film shifts to Reshma’s point of view and her attempt to be reunited with her father. Other stories are woven in to make her journey more difficult than it already is; she deals with rape, confusion in identity, and being shunned away from her own family. There are some holes in the story that are given some light of day but are never really followed through.

What keeps you involved throughout is Melinda Shankar’s performance. Her transformation from being a stubborn, spoiled teenager to a strong, level headed woman is great to watch on screen. The question that hovers throughout the movie is whatever happened to Vishnu? It’s an element of the film that keeps you intrigued but I felt the reveal fell flat. It felt as if Prasad wanted Reshma to keep experiencing these hardships to make the climax come off like a fairy tale. I questioned some aspects especially when Reshma returns to Guyana; it seemed what should have been the most difficult part of the story turned out to be the easiest for her.

Meena played by newcomer Rita Singh Pande plays a strong antagonist. Her journey from a poor, humble woman in Guyana to a rich, obnoxious wife in America is interesting as well. Before the film fast forwards we are shown the beginnings of Meena wanting to become “more American” and when we see her in the future it doesn’t take much to understand the choices she made. Her emotions are tested because she feels she has done the best she can to raise Reshma but her daughter sees her as just giving up and marrying a rich white man. Adem does not help with the situation as he seemingly hates the idea of immigrants and takes any shot he can at Vishnu.

Prasad presents a very well made film although at times it seems some aspects could be dropped or handled differently. The film’s top performers were Shankar and Pande as they were a pleasure to watch on screen. As I mentioned the film’s ending came off a bit like a fairy tale and although far fetched; it was pleasant to watch. The stories of cultural identity and the struggles brought with immigration were central ideas I felt came off extremely well in the film. I look forward to future projects with Prasad, Shankar and Pande.

Rating

2.5 out of 5

Purchase Festival of Lights on iTunes

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