Issue 71 / Melanie Chandra's New Film 'For Here or To Go?' Tackles Romance And Immigration Issues

Melanie Chandra’s New Film ‘For Here or To Go?’ Tackles Romance And Immigration Issues

Apr 03, 2017

Melanie Chandra and Ali Fazal star in a sweet but sober exploration of the modern immigrant experience in For Here Or To Go?

At a time in which immigration is such a contentious issue around the world — particularly in the United States — films that put a human face on the issue are as important as they’ve ever been. That’s certainly what For Here Or To Go?, the debut feature from director Rucha Humnabadkar, sets out to do. The independent dramedy, which debuted on the festival circuit in 2015, follows a young, single Indian software engineer named Vivek (Ali Fazal, of 3 Idiots fame) who’s on the rise in Silicon Valley.

He’s never given much thought to applying for a green card or any of that other “just paperwork” stuff; but then, on verge of leaving his mind-numbing number-crunching job for an exciting healthcare startup, his new employers pull their offer when they realize his work visa expires in less than a year.

For Here Or To Go
Theatrical poster for For Here or To Go? Photo Credit: Many Cups of Chai

Clearly, it’s time to start paying attention to the details; but even though he’s still got his boring old job, he finds that extending his current visa isn’t as simple as he assumed, putting him in real jeopardy of being sent back to India. It opens the door for an exploration of the tenuous position people like Vivek (and many of his coworkers, friends and roommates) live with when they come to the U.S., when something as small and unpredictable as a snafu in your office’s human resources department can reset the course of your entire life.

Further complicating things for Vivek is his budding romance with Shveta, a first-generation Indian-American who he meets at a speed-dating event. They begin a tentative relationship that’s undermined by the fact that neither of them knows if he’ll still be here in a few months. She’s played by Melanie Chandra, a former Miss India America winner who’s broken out on American TV in the years since filming this movie, with prominent roles on Netflix’s Brown Nation, HBO’s The Brink and her current gig as a series regular on gritty CBS doctor drama Code Black. For her, For Here or To Go? tells a very resonant, relatable story.

For Here Or To Go
Shveta (Melanie Chandra) and Vivek (Ali Fazal) struggle to hold on to on another amidst a quagmire of paperwork and identity crises. Photo Credit: Many Cups of Chai

“Being a first-generation Indian-American with a lot of legal immigrant friends, especially having spent some time in the Bay area for school, I thought they were telling a very heartwarming story that a lot of people don’t know; it hasn’t yet been portrayed in mass media,” Chandra explains, when asked what drew her to this project.

“Obviously, you’re following the protagonist’s journey, and most of his friends who are dealing with these visa issues,” she continues. “But my character serves as a lens to show how those issues affect everybody around them, especially having to start out a relationship with somebody who has very little control of their fate. I think it’s going to be eye-opening for people to understand it’s not just affecting immigrants, it’s affecting everybody around them too.”

Far from being relegated to “the love interest,” Shveta has her own complex personal drama to play out, much of it having to do with her father, a noted author who’s advocating for Indian immigrants to consider returning to their home country and building their own Silicon Valleys, rather than seeking opportunities in the U.S. Indeed, though light and breezy in tone, with a healthy sense of humour, the film engages with issues of identity and displacement.

“There was a lot of purpose behind this movie,” Chandra notes, “and it was really striving for authenticity.”


For Here Or To Go
Shveta and Vivek indulge in an impromptu Bollywood dance number. Photo Credit: Many Cups of Chai

Part of that authenticity is a genuine Bollywood dance number headed up by Chandra and her leading man, which was a first for the actress. But she was not unprepared.

“I danced Bollywood and modern Indian dance all throughout college. And when I moved out to New York City, I also joined a dance troupe that focused on contemporary Indian dance and some Bollywood, so it was really fun to showcase that . . . It’s a really fun moment of the film; I think it’s one of my favourites, because you’re not expecting it. It’s fun and it celebrates our culture.”

For Here or to Go? marks another, much more integral “first” for Chandra: her first female film director in Rucha Humnabadkar. Championing female filmmakers is a cause she’s actively involved in, noting that she’s currently working with a Huffington Post writer on a piece exploring the underrepresentation of women behind the camera.

For Here Or To Go
Vivek’s pals and coworkers are also dealing with visa issues. Photo Credit: Many Cups of Chai

“I’ve just been looking back at my career, and of the 50 or so episodes of television I’ve shot, I’ve had two female directors, which is shocking. Rucha is my first female film director, and she is the female director I’ve worked with the longest out of any project I’ve been on. And it was really, really special. She’s got a very keen eye and she knows what she wants as a director, but she’s very open to discussion and collaboration, and I love that. She just embraced everything I could want in a director.”

But while opportunities for female artists are, Chandra’s sure that “there will be more. It’s very important to inspire the next generation, and then to provide support and mentorship and funding. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Geena Davis institute, but I was recently speaking on a panel with one of the women, and she was like, ‘You know, fellowships for female filmmakers are great and everything, but what really needs to happen is when a female finishes grad school in filmmaking or a fellowship, there needs to be someone cutting them a cheque for $100,000 to work on their first film that is gonna get them the next film.’”

For Here Or To Go
Melanie Chandra is committed to supporting female filmmakers. Photo Credit: Many Cups of Chai

Obviously, For Here or To Go? is being released in a very different political climate than the one in which it was filmed. (Several characters grappling with green card and visa issues even namecheck Obama.) But in Chandra’s view, that doesn’t detract from the film’s timeliness. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“The story is still the story, and it’s a very personal story for both the writer [Rishi Bhilawadikar] and the filmmaker. You can see that passion in the storytelling, in the dialogue and in the acting. I just think it happens to be very timely right now, under this new administration, and it was not planned. It’s just the perfect timing for America to see a movie like this . . . I think the goal for the movie is to provoke a lot of empathy and understanding for Indian immigrants and also help other Americans appreciate everything that we might take for granted. And that’s where change starts, right? Empathy.”

For Here Or To Go? is now playing in select theatres across the United States.


Main Image Photo Credit: Many Cups of Chai 

Matthew Currie


A long-standing entertainment journalist, Currie is a graduate of the Professional Writing program at Toronto’s York University. He has spent the past number of years working as a freelancer for ANOKHI and for diverse publications such as Sharp, TV Week, CAA’s Westworld and BC Business. Currie ...


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