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Sikh News Movie Review: "American Made"

Jun 1, 2004
A bearded turban-wearing Sikh gentleman, his beautiful wife, and two sons
are stranded in the desert out West after their GM station wagon overheats
and breaks down. No one will stop to help them. Motorists speed away at the
sight of the father's turban. The younger son points out to his father that
if he would just take off his turban, perhaps the passing motorists would
stop. The motorists think he is a "terrorist."

American Made reveals the fissure in American life after 9/11. It is a
single-scene drama, set in a desert. The characters are the father with
beard and turban, who can quote Robert Frost at a bad moment and who is
unaware that he is the problem; his younger son who is the catalyst; the
older son with his useless expensive cell phone, and the beautiful mother
with the sacred scripture. The father falls back on his ethnic pride and on
his faith. He has a blind spot about other people's perception of him; his
sense of dignity and self-worth is laudable. He is shocked and humbled when
he begins to see that his son is right.

The conflict within the family has to do with degrees of assimilation.
There is the universal problem of patriarchal pride: it would not do for
the father to step back, to take off his turban, or to stay out of sight to
let his beautiful wife, or his less exotic looking sons be the ones to
stand at the roadside and flag down a passing car. The film is masterful in
the way it keeps out rhetoric; it is able to present the universal problem
of heightened racism and suspicion after 9/11, without any finger pointing.

The characters stand out, the two brothers are individualized, and each
reacts differently. The mother's brand of faith is different from the
father's. The physical props are memorable and are put to dramatic use: the
cell phone, the turban, the sacred scripture, cars that want to stop, and
do not stop, the outcome depends on whether the turban is visible or not.
Laudably, the dramatic change or turn in this single-scene film would
interest almost anyone, insiders or outsiders.

The prize Gobbling Short Film, by Sharat Raju, an unknown young film-maker,
has won an astonishing number of awards and honorable mentions. The 25 year
old writer-director, has won the 2004 Tribeca award, The Richard P.
Rodger's Award, The Angelus Award Grand Prize, The Eastman Kodak Award, and
The Patrick Peyton Award. He also won the Audience Favorite Award at Aspen
Shortsfest; and The Best International Short Film Award at the Reelworld
Toronto Film Festival.

Sharat Raju wrote and directed the film for the American Film Institute as
part of his MFA. His cinematographer, Mathew R. Blute, has caught the
quality of light in the desert, and the nowhere-landscape of an expanse of
the Mojove desert, a hundred miles north of LA.

The actors Bernard White as the father, Kalpana Jaffrey as the mother, Kal
Penn (and his cell phone), T-Amir Sweeney as the catalyst son, and Haskell
Anderson (as the passing motorist) are all believable. I would give
American Made four stars.

Watch your film festival circuits for American Made, currently scheduled at
the Savannah Film Festival, Savannah, Georgia on Oct. 25 and 30; and at the
"Foculari" conference in Rome, Italy, Nov. 4-7.



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