The film Pardes is a love story about people and a love story about India. Released in 1997, the film both opens and closes with the title:
"LONG LIVE INDIA"
Celebrating 50 years of Independence
Pardes tells the story of three Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) - Kishorilal, Rajiv, and Arjun. Kishorilal (Amrish Puri) lives with his extended family in California but has not forgotten his motherland India. His attachment with the country is deep and he hopes to find a Indian bride for his westernized, American son, Rajiv (Apoorva Agnihotri). On a visit to India, he is especially taken by Ganga (Mahima Chaudhry), the daughter of his friend Suraj Dev (Alok Nath). He offers a marriage proposal between Ganga and Rajiv and they accept. After returning to America, he sends his foster son Arjun Sagar (Shah Rukh Khan) to ensure Ganga approves of Rajiv. Soon Rajiv joins them and eventually the marriage is approved by both sides. The engagement celebration is held in India with the wedding planned for America. Now that the NRIs have experienced India, they want to bring Ganga back to the United States so she can experience the foreign land where she will live before she gets married. Will she be able to adapt?
In "The NRIs: a life of dilemma", Sriram Balasubramanian divides NRIs into two categories:
The Never Return to India. For them India is a third world country which is confined to those once-in-a-few-years visits for the sake of completing the formality of seeing their loved ones. For them India is a chaotic, unhygienic and polluted place where they can't live for a second without Bisleri water and where the sound of honking is noise pollution. Having said this, they don't take the Indianness out of them because it will make them look out of sync with their identity
The Now Return to India. They are actually in love with their homeland so much that they want to come back as soon as possible. Stuck in the vicious cycle of money and social pressures, they are not able to break away from the social barriers to return back home. As such, they look for ways to imbibe these qualities within their kin and tell people back home that their kids are more culturally inclined than any Indian kid could be. While in some cases this might be true, in most of the cases these are statements to satisfy the self from the guilt of not being able to return to their roots.
Rajiv definitely represents the first of these two categories. He is not interested in the culture or traditions of India. He is willing to marry Ganga, but only on his terms.
Kishorilal falls into the second category. He has a love and respect for India and selects Ganga to marry Rajiv to serve as the missing link to the Indian homeland and to be a cultural influence on his son. For Kishorilal, India offers the ideal model for love and life. Near the beginning of the film, Kishorilal is visiting the Taj Mahal and tells a group of tourists:
"In America, love has it's own limitations, it's demands. There, love is a gesture of give and take. But in India, it is not give and take. In India it is give, give and give."
Arjun is somewhere in the middle. He understands and respects Indian culture. As an artist he paints, composes songs and dreams about India and its people. However, when he first arrives at Ganga's home in India, he tries to change things so that Rajiv will be confortable in this foreign land. Fortunately, his attempts at change are soon dismissed by Ganga and her family. During that initial trip he begins the process to set up a music school. Later in the film, when Arjun returns to India but is kicked out of Ganga's home he is asked by a local resident "Where are you from?" Arjun answers, "Nowhere."
While Pardes focuses on the culture clash between NRIs and those living in India, it also highlights the divide between rich and poor. Ganga's family is poor in money (compared to U.S. standards), but rich in family and land and love. Rajiv's family is rich in money and possessions, but poor in love and truth. Near the end of the film, Kishorilal confronts Arjun and asks for the truth about his relationship with Ganga. Arjun responds,
"Truth? You don't want to know the truth. ... It takes a big heart. One needs a big heart to hear the truth. And the truth is when a man gains status with wealth and power he distances himself from truth and morality. He thinks, whatever he believes is the truth, whatever he did was right. And that's what has happened with you too, sir. You made it big alright, but remained small in personal matters. Because the truth is that you lied to yourself. You lied that an Indian girl can be a wife to a foreigner like him."
The film does suffer from stereotypes of both Indian and American cultures but the film makes a powerful point as well: How we treat others is a testament to who we really are. The interactions between Arjun and Ganga are the most engaging because they seem the most honest. Late in the film, when Arjun is further pressed to explain his relationship with Ganga, he replies,
"Trust... respect, reverence and ... love."
Regardless of what your culture or religion is, how much money you have or don't have, or where you live, the best relationships grow in the fertile soil of trust, respect, reverence and love.
And in the filmmaker's eyes, it seems a great deal of that fertile soil can be found in India.
Here is a version of the song "I Love My India" from the film Pardes.
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