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The Illegal movie review: Suraj Sharma-starrer immigrant drama tells a bleak but engaging tale

The Illegal movie review: This Suraj Sharma starrer revolves around the theme of identity and how the modern world, with its stringently drawn borders and anti-immigration sentiment, has hardwired us to reduce people to documents

Rating: 4 out of 5
The Illegal, suraj sharmaThe Illegal is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. (Photo: Amazon Studios)

The Illegal cast: Suraj Sharma, Iqbal Theba, Adil Hussain, Neelima Azeem, Jay Ali and Shweta Tripathi
The Illegal director: Danish Renzu
The Illegal rating: 4 stars

The Illegal revolves around the theme of identity and how the modern world, with its stringently drawn borders and anti-immigration sentiment, has hardwired us to reduce people to documents. A piece of paper determines whether you are a citizen or a subhuman, a burden on the resources or even a potential danger to the country’s security.

While hate towards immigrants is universal, The Illegal specifically concerns itself with the American variety.

Directed by Danish Renzu, The Illegal offers a gloomy look at the life of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The film revolves around a young aspiring Indian filmmaker who arrives at the American shores to realise his dreams.

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For Hassan (Suraj Sharma), filmmaking is beyond just a potential vocation, it is a way of expressing himself. A Delhi native, he yearns to showcase his talent at the global stage and believes he has what it takes to become a successful filmmaker. To hone his craft, he takes admission in a reputed but expensive LA film school.

Leaving his sister (Shweta Tripathi), father (Adil Hussain) and mother (Neelima Azeem) in Delhi, he sets off to America.

Soon enough, Hassan’s hopes are dashed and he realises the American Dream is a chimera, forever beyond reach of the unprivileged. He finds he is not welcome at the home of his maternal uncle, where he had planned to stay until his graduation.


He gets a job in a restaurant serving Indian cuisine as a server and finds in Jay Ali’s Khan, the owner, a singularly loathsome individual whose greatest skill is to take advantage of the vulnerable. Hassan has to choose between his dreams and his self-respect and daily abuse, and that is not a choice at all.

Suraj, mostly known for his star-making turn in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Craig Gillespie’s Million Dollar Arm, is undoubtedly brilliant in the role as a youngster clinging to an increasingly distant and unrealistic future wherein he is financially self-reliant.

By turns optimistic and angry but mostly in despair at his situation, the actor uses his vulnerable face amazingly, and manages to bring out the various facets of the character very well.


The supporting cast is strong and everybody is convincing. Hussain is as always impactful even in a fairly small role. Tripathi and Azeem are great in their brief appearances, and Jay Ali is suitably odious.

The film plays for a crisp 86 minutes, and the times flies by quickly. It eschews clichés and for the most part tells an engaging, if a little bleak, tale.

First published on: 24-03-2021 at 05:36:43 pm
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