Sunday, June 14, 2020

The N.R.I. dilemma

For those not familiar with N.R.I. it refers to a  Non Resident Indian, a fairly common role in Bollywood and Indian movies.  In fact they are popular, partly because the film financers want to reach foreign audiences, but also because they represent reality.

There is such a thing as brain drain where much of the world benefits at the expense of India.  I have personally been enriched by the brain drain from India (and Pakistan) quite literally, but also figuratively --more on that at the bottom.

A Telegu film "Pressure Cooker" (2020) reminded me of changing attitudes on  the N.R.I.  The movie was just ok, but the theme and plot opened my mind.  In this film the parents of the hero thought the ultimate goal for their son was for him to settle in the U.S.  They had relatives and neighbors who had seen their sons succeed in America.  The hero after graduating from university tried several times to get a VISA unsuccessfully, but felt pressured to start his career in America.  Desperate he tried some illegal methods, but got caught.  He became attracted to a woman whose mother wanted her to marry an N.R.I. and go to the States, but she had always resisted.

As the plot develops our hero develops a relationship with an older neighbor who has two sons that have settled in the U.S. and feels great pride in them.  Later we see the two brothers with their wives visit their father and without meaning offense demonstrated a clash of parental cultures.  After they returned to their American homes,  the father became very ill and it became an awkward situation as the two sons felt work obligations and their wives feeling the effort was not worth it.  The father died and his wife grieved contacting her sons for support, but they were rationalizing they couldn't get there in time, but would try later on.  In Hindu culture the oldest son is obligated to light the fire for his father's cremation.  Instead the hero lit the flames.

Not able to get a job with any large technology companies in India he ended up with a startup and developed some significant technological advance with medical applications.  This gave him an easy shot at going to the States with minimal fuss.  His girl friend to whom he had recently professed his love would not go as she felt obligated to stay for her parents.  The hero was torn, but felt obligated to his father and was set to go.  At the last minute (of course) the widow of the dead neighbor brought a letter from her husband written on his death bed.  Our hero read the letter to his family in which the neighbor confessed he had changed his mind about sending his sons to the States and felt our hero should stay because  of his parents.  A happy ending and he reconciles with his girl friend.

A better movie in many ways was "Swades" (2004)  They had a much bigger star, my favorite Shah Rukh Khan who already was in America.  He was a well respected and successful space engineer, but felt he missed his child hood nanny.  He decided to go back to India with the idea of bringing her back to America.  Naturally there were lots of difficulties including a romance.  While there the hero was constantly being asked to help local people how to get their VISA and he offered encouragement.  As in the other film the romance became very significant in his thinking.  She admitted she loved him, but would not go to the States.  As a teacher she felt her purpose in life was to raise the education of her neighborhood youth and persisted through many obstacles which our hero helped a little.  A crunch came when the village suffered a series of blackouts.  Our hero was able to overcome this problem with his engineering skill.

He was in demand in the States and had felt he could serve India from that spot.  He had contributed to a satellite that would help water resources in India.  Now he could appreciate that his skills would be critical in India.  In the end he opted to stay in India with his nanny and his love.

Although considered an artistic success it was not a big financial hit.  More on Shah Rukh Khan:

Times are changing.  Asians were attracted to Europe and North America for education and many of them used to find jobs in the host country.  That is changing.  Not only are Asians finding quality education alternatives in Asia, but also the rest of the world is starting to enroll in Asian education institutions.  Another key trend is that Asian graduates are more inclined to go back home where they can make a difference.   As I was writing this post I was watching Fareed Zakaria who was interviewing the author Parag Khanna of "The Future is Asia" who added that partly because of Donald Trump -some Asians are switching from America to Australia and Canada.  Learn more about Parag's book:

Indians are contributing all around the globe and wherever they are will provide lots of stories for films.

For a few years of my work life I worked as a newspaper district circulation manager which meant I was required to sell.  In practice this meant recruiting carriers to knock on doors and persuade home owners to subscribe to a newspaper.  It wasn't initially a strong point for me, but eventually I caught on with the help of another district manager.  What made me look good and win a trip to Florida were a few young boys from the Indian subcontinent--especially brothers Farhan and Aamir, Fernando and David.  On a sadder note as part of my job I ran a program for Carrier of The Week.  One boy I brought for a photo when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up answered, "I want to go back to India."  A few years later I learned from his parents that he died in the Air India bombing.  More on my circulation experiences:

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