An old grizzled individual and a young cute kid bonding over their shared personal issues is a tried-and-tested sub-genre that can’t go wrong. They can be connected by blood or form a surrogate parent-child relationship that eclipses any relationship one is born into. Logan (2017), Midnight Special (2016), Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021), The Mandalorian (2019-ongoing), Road to Perdition (2002), and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) are just some of the best examples. But, as you can see, there’s a severe lack of Indian representation over here, which is a country where people like to pride themselves over their ability to parent children and maintain a family. Land of Gold (2022) is here to correct that and more.
Written and directed by Nardeep Khurmi, Land of Gold tells the story of a first-generation Punjabi truck driver, Kiran (played by Khurmi). He lives with his wife Preeti (Pallavi Sastry), who is expecting, and his mother (Riti Sachdeva). And he has a father, Gurinder (Iqbal Theba), who lives with his younger brother, Kuldip (Dhruv Uday Singh) and his sister-in-law (Karen David). During the baby shower, Kiran reveals to Preeti that he has taken up a job to pay the bills. Which means that he won’t be around during Preeti and the baby’s most crucial hours and that causes a rift between the couple. Kiran departs on this sour note, which is only escalated by the discovery that an undocumented Mexican girl named Elena (Caroline Valencia) has boarded his truck in an attempt to get to her uncle who lives in Boston.
Two of the biggest assets of Land of Gold are Caroline Valencia and Nardeep Khurmi. The chemistry between these two is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Initially, Elena felt kind of frustrating and intrusive. But it’s only because that’s what Khurmi wants you to feel about her. And right when you begin to realize that Valencia is acting like a kid would in a situation as chaotic and intense as the one she’s in, Khurmi starts to turn the dials to make Kiran more empathetic towards her. Thereby making it one of the most brilliant displays of character-writing, acting, and understanding of tone. That’s not to say that the rest of the cast should be ignored. Sastry, Sachdeva, Singh, and David are excellent. However, out of the supporting cast, it’s the veteran star Iqbal Theba who steals the show.
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As you must have figured out by now, Land of Gold is essentially about Kiran learning to be a parent and giving up the fear of becoming like his own father (and maybe forgiving his father for his mistakes). The journey is a chance for Elena to be with a parent-figure as her own languish in a Detention Center. In addition to that, it’s about Indian and Mexican cultures coming together, and learning about White America’s mistreatment of immigrants. Without giving too much away, all of these heavy themes and emotions converge in a scene with Iqbal Theba, Khurmi and Valencia. Gurinder’s mind isn’t what it used to be due to the after-effects of police brutality and subsequent alcoholism. So, instead of testing his mental capacity, for a few minutes, Elena pretends to be the daughter Khurmi is about to have. And Gurinder gives the life advice to Elena that he used to give to Kiran; thereby attacking the tear ducts like it has never been attacked before.
There’s not a single element in Khurmi’s script that’s just there to be a framing or plot device. Everything serves the story and speaks to the times that it is releasing into the world. South Asian representation is currently reaching new heights in international spheres with films and shows like Midnight Mass (2021), RRR (2022), Ms. Marvel (2022), Four Samosas (2022) and of course, Land of Gold. But there’s been a marked increase in racism and bigotry against South Asian communities and minorities in South Asian countries. Also, post pandemic, inflation has impacted many lives and one has to think about sustainability before rushing to form a family more now than ever before. There’s no empty sloganeering about divisiveness or some bloated advice about revolution coming from Khurmi though. Elena and Kiran take the world as it is and navigate through it. And their journey becomes emblematic of a call for unity among those who haven’t been born into a life of privilege and look for a humane future.
From a technical point-of-view, the cinematography by Christopher Low, the music by Simon Taufique, and the editing by Emily Chao are excellent. Not even a single word is uttered and these three, with Khurmi’s directorial abilities, convey so much about Kiran’s state of mind. The shifts between the harsh reality and soft core memoires, and the efforts to ensure that they aren’t heading towards a traumatic future, is visualized incredibly beautifully. Since Kiran is a budding astronomer and he considers the vastness of the universe as God, the movie constantly tries to frame Elena and Kiran against the infinity of space. So, you get these breathtaking compositions with them across various shades of the sky, the land, and briefly, the ocean. Additionally, the visit to the Gurdwara is one of the best scenes of the year. And not just because of the way the scene is constructed, but also because of how the movie builds up to it. Absolutely sublime stuff right there.
Land of Gold is surprisingly deceptive. It toys with your idea of how movies belonging to this subgenre go and pushes it to its limits, making you think that, “is this going to be as sunshines and rainbows as it looks like?” Then, bam, Nardeep Khurmi delivers one emotional haymaker after another, thereby bringing you to your knees and drowning you in your own puddle of tears. That sounds like an exaggeration right now. But when you see the final moments between Kiran and Elena, and the way it’s edited, you let me know if you don’t feel an inkling of devastation in your heart. Which also means that Land of Gold comes highly recommended. It means a lot in terms of representation. It’s a brilliantly conceived story. And Caroline Valencia’s star-making performance is something you have to see to believe.
Land of Gold premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.