Rama (Suraj Sharma) is a young man living in a small Indian village. His mother (Smita Tambe) tends to push him to the side because she doesn’t think he really lives up to her eldest son Udai (Praitek), who’s gone off to Umrika (America in Hindi) for work, just like his uncle did before him. On schedule, Udai sends letters to his mother and father, and they’re read throughout the village, as though it were a ritual. It’s almost like a hope they hang on to because Udai sends pictures and regales them of stories from a place that seems so exotic and strange from what they’re used to.
Rama essentially grows up with a black cloud over his head and without a brother. After an unexpected period where Udai stops sending letters, Rama’s mother becomes depressed and distances herself from her husband and son. The letters pick up again, but when Rama becomes an adult, he begins to discover a lot of secrets and his world unravels much like the American dream his family held.
I don’t believe Umrika really says anything new about the American dream. It plays into the entire dream being an illusion or really a state of mind, where many hear about fantastic opportunities that happened for others, but doesn’t work the same way for themselves. What it does do differently, however, is that it takes place on the other side of the world and not in America itself. The characters struggle with a dream not yet realized in a place none of them have been, yet somehow, it hovers over their heads like a storm ready to pour.
Rama, after finding out the truth that’s been kept from him for so long, tries his hardest to maintain the lost hope for his mother, even though his hope is pretty much lost. His character growth is one of the strongest parts of the film. We see him go from a boy who allows his mother to speak to him in a manner that implies she thinks less of him than his brother, into a man who takes matters into his own hands, trying to bridge the gap the lies have played in his life, but more importantly, in his mother’s. In his journey he finally finds a way to live his own life, but at a very high cost.
While I’m not in awe of the plot and the pacing is occasionally a bit underwhelming and loses steam midway through before the big discovery, the performance by superb actor Suraj Sharma is worth the watch. He’s already proven his weight as an actor in Life of Pi, and Umrika really gives him a big slice of emotional baggage to deal with and far more character interactions that he has to juggle, to which he does a wonderful job balancing several different emotions and has your heart aching for him by the end.
The supporting cast is equally as good and add weight to the film. Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) plays Rama’s best friend Lalu, who loves women and joking around, but is also blunt and the source of truth for Rama in a lot of ways that his family never was. Essentially though, he is most of the comedic relief for the film, and I would have enjoyed his performance more, however, had he had a bit more to do. Smita Tambe as Rama’s mother is wonderful. She shows us her pride as a mother, all while giving us her love, her too-high expectations, and her sadness.
Director Prashant Nair invokes many emotions in this film. There are moments of comedy, of eternal sadness, hope, and emptiness. The varying ranges are impressive. And what Nair lacks in pacing and overall fluidity, he makes up for in cinematography and emotional moments that really grip you and take you for a ride. He doesn’t try to say anything new, but the American way of life is still an impact on Rama’s family, no matter how indirect it is. The film could have also focused more on the character relationships, especially between Rama and his brother, which was underdeveloped and could have been more strained given the circumstances. Outside of this, the film is solid enough overall, even if on the average side.