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10 Fantastic Movies About The South Asian Diaspora

Being Indian by way of Texas can sometimes put me in a cinematic lurch - all-white casts don’t represent me and my Hindi isn’t good enough for Bollywood. But filmmakers are taking on the hyphenated identity more and more. These are some of the best movies about the South Asian Diaspora. (unsurprisingly 6/10 have to do with marriage and 3/10 have Kal Penn in a starring role)

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1. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Um, duh. Obviously the best film about hyphenated South Asians anywhere. BilB is heartfelt and funny. It grapples with parental expectations, sports dreams, and marriage all in equal measure. This movie is a classic and ridiculously quotable. A definite must-watch for every sports movie, girl power, filmy fan who can’t make round chapatis.

Um, duh. Obviously the best film about hyphenated South Asians anywhere. BilB is heartfelt and funny. It grapples with parental expectations, sports dreams, and marriage all in equal measure. This movie is a classic and ridiculously quotable. A definite must-watch for every sports movie, girl power, filmy fan who can’t make round chapatis.

2. The Namesake (2006)

Less comedy this time and more quiet reflection. The Namesake, based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, spans two generations and looks critically at the idea of lineage. This film is gorgeous, and the combination of Kal Penn and Irfan Khan sells the story.

Less comedy this time and more quiet reflection. The Namesake, based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, spans two generations and looks critically at the idea of lineage. This film is gorgeous, and the combination of Kal Penn and Irfan Khan sells the story.

3. East is East (1999)

All about one Pakistani family living in 1970s London and dealing with identity, disobedience, and cultural tradition. It includes queer characters and one fantastic dance solo from Archie Panjabi. Be careful though, this film contains scenes with domestic violence and abuse.

All about one Pakistani family living in 1970s London and dealing with identity, disobedience, and cultural tradition. It includes queer characters and one fantastic dance solo from Archie Panjabi. Be careful though, this film contains scenes with domestic violence and abuse.

4. Mississippi Masala (1991)

From the clothes to the colors to the landscapes to young Denzel Washington, everything about Mira Nair’s 90s classic is beautifully heart-wrenching. Also it’s surprisingly sexy. This film is fundamentally about the divides we place between ourselves - the division between communities of color, between a father and her daughter, and between here and home. It comments on race relations in a way that’s still painfully relevant today.

From the clothes to the colors to the landscapes to young Denzel Washington, everything about Mira Nair’s 90s classic is beautifully heart-wrenching. Also it’s surprisingly sexy. This film is fundamentally about the divides we place between ourselves - the division between communities of color, between a father and her daughter, and between here and home. It comments on race relations in a way that’s still painfully relevant today.

5. Anita & Me (2002)

Possibly the prettiest movie on this list, Anita & Me is based off of the Meera Syal book of the same name. This movie isn’t well known outside the UK but it’s not to be missed. You will never have a more empathetic moment than when Meena, the 9 year-old protagonist, moans about not having friends to which her mother replies, “Beta, you don’t need friends - you have your father and me.”

Possibly the prettiest movie on this list, Anita & Me is based off of the Meera Syal book of the same name. This movie isn’t well known outside the UK but it’s not to be missed. You will never have a more empathetic moment than when Meena, the 9 year-old protagonist, moans about not having friends to which her mother replies, “Beta, you don’t need friends - you have your father and me.”

6. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Don’t doubt this one - as one of the first films in American cinema to have only PoC main characters, Harold and Kumar is a fantastic diaspora film. It’s a stoner comedy that engages humorously with parental expectations and latent racism. There are so many little jokes that nod to the Indian-American and diaspora experiences. PLUS John Cho is a beautiful beautiful man who is not scared to speak his mind on PoC representation and white-washing in Hollywood films, so, you know, watch it for him too.

Don’t doubt this one - as one of the first films in American cinema to have only PoC main characters, Harold and Kumar is a fantastic diaspora film. It’s a stoner comedy that engages humorously with parental expectations and latent racism. There are so many little jokes that nod to the Indian-American and diaspora experiences. PLUS John Cho is a beautiful beautiful man who is not scared to speak his mind on PoC representation and white-washing in Hollywood films, so, you know, watch it for him too.

7. Dude Where’s the Party? (Where’s the Party, Yaar) (2003)

Kal Penn’s first movie and filmed in my hometown (big ups to H-town)! It’s about an American-grown Desi dealing with his somewhat “uncool” cousin and navigating college life. Lots of love and acceptance.

Kal Penn’s first movie and filmed in my hometown (big ups to H-town)! It’s about an American-grown Desi dealing with his somewhat “uncool” cousin and navigating college life. Lots of love and acceptance.

8. Touch of Pink (2004)

Touch of Pink is a breath of fresh air amongst the latent homophobia of a lot of Desi culture. It’s about Jimi Mistry (who has yet to do something actually terrible with the exception of Love Guru, idk wat that was) trying to tell his conservative Indian mother that he’s fallen in love with a white English man. It’s equal measures painful and sweet.

Touch of Pink is a breath of fresh air amongst the latent homophobia of a lot of Desi culture. It’s about Jimi Mistry (who has yet to do something actually terrible with the exception of Love Guru, idk wat that was) trying to tell his conservative Indian mother that he’s fallen in love with a white English man. It’s equal measures painful and sweet.

9. American Desi (2001)

Easily the campiest film on this list, American Desi is an amateur comedy about an Indian-American boy who tries to throw off the cultural traditions of his family only to find consolation in them. It’s a story about learning to be alright and definitely worth watching for the scene where he tries to buy naan at the store.

Easily the campiest film on this list, American Desi is an amateur comedy about an Indian-American boy who tries to throw off the cultural traditions of his family only to find consolation in them. It’s a story about learning to be alright and definitely worth watching for the scene where he tries to buy naan at the store.

10. It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (2010)

This movie is so triumphant with its sweet, genuine, chubby heroine, her empathetic mother, and the ridiculously handsome childhood friend (swooning forever over Sendhil Ramamurthy) that comes back into both of their lives. The humor is black and über panjabi.

This movie is so triumphant with its sweet, genuine, chubby heroine, her empathetic mother, and the ridiculously handsome childhood friend (swooning forever over Sendhil Ramamurthy) that comes back into both of their lives. The humor is black and über panjabi.

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