7 South-Asian Feature Films That Helped Shape The Diaspora’s Identity

7 South-Asian Feature Films That Helped Shape The Diaspora’s Identity

We’re often surrounded by a deluge of stories. Within each story is a sliver of vehement truth of a journey lived, a reality unearthed. In his book Cartographies of Diaspora, anthropologist Avtar Brah writes, “At the heart of the notion of diaspora is the image of a journey.”

Holding true to this statement, over 25 million persons make up the South-Asian diaspora, holding within itself a myriad of cultures from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Korea, and more. Displacement, migration, and prolonged conflict in these regions over the decades has caused the diaspora to be more widespread and therefore, more culturally heterogeneous.

Displacement and migration is a common experience for this diaspora to undergo and it does not necessarily offer the respite or hope of a new life. Diasporic settlements across the world hold within themselves several untold challenges and struggles that artists, new-age thinkers. and filmmakers have tried to translate on-screen. We take a look at some films by the diaspora that largely encapsulates the spirit and the core of each of these communities.

I. Ponmani, Sri Lanka (1976)

Made almost as a prelude to the civil unrest that tore through the island nation in the 80s, Ponmani directed by Dharmasena Pathiraja is the first and the only Tamil film made by a Sinhala filmmaker. Pathiraja was acclaimed as one of the most forethinking Sri Lankan filmmakers to have attempted to evoke real-life challenges of his people in a nuanced manner on the silver screen. The film touches upon conversations around feminism, caste, and politics while placing it in Jaffna as an economic crisis unfolded in real-time.

You can watch Ponmani by Pathiraja here.

II. Jaago Hua Savera, Pakistan (1959)

This 1959 Pakistani classic film was a turning point in the then emerging film industry. The story is a loose adaptation of the Bengali novel, Padma Nadir Majhi by Manik Bandopadhyay that chronicles the lives of East Bengal’s fishermen community. Adapted and rewritten within the geopolitical context of the then recently partitioned country, the film played a powerful role in developing nationalistic sentiments through the lens of visionary and poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s writing and lyrics.

You can watch Jaago Hua Savera by A.J Kardar here.

III. Agraharathil Kazhuthai, India (1977)

The title literally translates to ‘A donkey in a brahmin’s village’ in Tamil. This retrospective piece of work doubles as a stark reflection of caste-hierarchy and a socio-political satire that challenges the system all at once. Directed by John Abraham, the story holds an almost haunting resemblance to Lijo Pallissery’s Jallikattu, which was one among India’s official entries to the Oscars in 2020. A stray donkey wrecks havoc in a Brahmin neighbourhood, agitating its caste-rigid citizens.

You can watch Agraharathil Kazhuthai by John Abraham here.

IV. A River Called Titas, Bangladesh (1973)

Bengali filmmaker Ritvik Ghatak produced a trailblazing piece of work in this enigmatic saga. Shot in the then newly formed Bangladesh, the story chronicles the lives of fishermen communities that lived along the banks of the river Titas in the eastern frontiers of the state of Bengal. A heart-wrenching story that captures the vanishing ways of life practised by the community, Ghatak delivers a poignant piece of work that documents the horrors of the Bengal partition.

You can stream A River Called Titas by Ritwik Ghatak here.

Image source: Film at Lincoln Centre

V. Kannathil Muthammittal, India (2002)

Directed by a story writing maverick, this Mani Ratnam classic deep dives into the Sri Lankan civil war through the lens of family, separation, longing, and displacement. This daughter’s quest for her birth mother takes her and her adopted family along on a gutting story that highlights the struggles and on-ground horrors of the war that tore through the country.

You can stream Kannathil Muthammital by Mani Ratnam here.

Image source: Netflix.com

VI. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, India (2007)

Hailed as the Empress of iasporic cinema, Mira Nair knows how to package powerful stories of the community through her visionary lens. One amongst her extensive body of work in this genre, The Reluctant Fundamentalist narrates the story of a Pakistani migrant who aims to achieve corporate success on Wall Street. The book adaptation then follows the conflicts and challenges that the lead character finds himself embroiled in.

You can stream The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mira Nair here.

Image source: IMDb

VII. Minari, South Korea (2020)

Named after a Korean delicacy, Minari explores the struggles of a Korean family’s migration to the US in hopes of finding their American dream. Lee Isaac Chung’s cinematic marvel officially made its entry to the Oscars in 2020 and was nominated for a total of 6 Academy awards in the same year.

You can stream Minari by Lee Isaac Chung here.

Image source: The New Yorker

If you enjoyed reading this, we also suggest: