“In Umrika, anything is possible,” says a character in an Indian village that has sent one of its sons to the land of plenty. Anything is possible too in Umrika, Prashant Nair’s second movie after Delhi in a Day. This Good Bye Lenin!-style ode to the white lie that sustains a family has an interesting premise, some strong performances and a screenplay that examines migration through the prism of a family drama.

The movie opens in the 1970s, when Udai (Prateik) leaves his village for a better life in America. The village eagerly waits for news of Udai’s supposedly improved prospects, and they are regularly fed photograph-laden cheerful letters. In a scene that is meant to be touching but comes off as unwittingly patronising, Udai’s mother (Smita Tambe) mistakes a picture of hot dogs for fried carrots and treats the village with the food that is supposedly sustaining her son.

It turns out to be a grand lie sustained by Udai’s father (Pramod Pathak). Udai has actually disappeared after leaving the village, and his father has been manufacturing the letters to keep his wife happy. It’s left to Udai’s younger brother Rakamant (Suraj Sharma) to leave the village and set out in search of his missing brother. He gets work through a tout (Amit Sial) and eventually meets a trafficker (Adil Hussain) who holds clues to Udai’s fate.


The story unfolds over several years, and the passage of time is marked by playing Hindi film tunes and news broadcasts from the appropriate period. It’s never clear where Udai’s father and his partner in crime, the postman (Rajesh Tailang), get their hands on so many photographs of America in a barebones village, just as it isn’t clear why nobody gets suspicious that Udai isn’t sending any dollars home.

The villagers’ veneration of America and their collective obsession with how Americans might behave (if the women wear pants, what must the men wear, wonders one character) is less organic to the plot and more of a contrivance to make the movie chime with global audiences. Umrika makes pertinent observations about the challenges faced by desperate migrants, but the characters are too subdued and generalised to enforce the story’s empathy with its subject matter.

The gentle pace works well in the first hour, but Nair runs out of steam in depicting Ramakant’s struggle to deal with the truth about Udai. Ramakant’s bold romantic relationship with a woman beggars belief, as does the idea that under-educated villagers in the ‘70s and ’80s would dream of fleeing towards America. The real destination of an under-educated Indian immigrant might have been the Arab countries, but then “Dubai” cannot be mangled like “Umrika”.

The main male characters in the movie make the conceit believable. Suraj Sharma brings sensitivity and heft to his role, and Prateik is just as convincing as the feckless Udai. American actor Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) fits snugly into the part of Ramakant’s friend from the village, who wants to hang out with busty blondes. You don’t have to leave India to find well-endowed women, that’s for sure.