Fly away home

by Yule Heibel on January 30, 2006

Continuing on the multi-cultural Canada theme, I walked the dog to our local video store yesterday and rented a wonderful film, Masala. Co-written by Srivinas Krishna, who also directed and stars, this 1991 film takes as its point of departure the Air India atrocity. On board a doomed flight to India are a mother, father, and little boy, between them an empty seat. That seat should be occupied by Krishna (Srivinas Krishna), their first-born son, but he stood them up at the airport. The family is returning to India because the father couldn’t adjust to his new world home; the eldest son, at this point 15, rebelled because he didn’t want to leave Canada. After the plane explodes in mid-flight, his immediate family is wiped out.

None of this is told in a straightforward, linear way, but as one watches the film one learns these facts, as well as that Krishna, completely unable to feel anything at all after the death of his family, becomes a heroin addict who gets clean through a tough tour in detox. The film starts its story five years after the fateful airplane flight, when Krishna has come out of detox and is trying to figure out what to do next.

He tries to lean on his ex-girlfriend, a Caucasian girl who’s still a user. Her new pimp nearly kills him, and he runs to his extended family, intruding like some ghost-from-the-dead on a festive event at their home that involves the Canadian Minister for Intercultural Affairs (or something like that), a Caucasian, who is formally announcing the federal government’s support of a new Hindu religious centre in the heart of the community. Krishna’s extended family (his mother’s sister, her husband, their son) aren’t over the moon to see him, for Krishna is not what anyone would consider a pliant cultural member: he wears a leather jacket over t-shirt and jeans, and he looks and acts like the proverbial rebel without a cause. His aunt accuses him of still wearing the same old jacket that he wore to his family’s funeral rites, even though he claims it’s a new one. She lectures him on how clothes make the man — her husband’s business is a successful sari importing operation.

What makes the film so different, and fun in a bizarre, wonderful way, is the introduction of what I guess are Bollywood elements: over the top operatic or musical twists and turns, surreal introductions of dream sequences, and a good-natured dollop of supernatural shenanigans: masala — spice mixture.

Krishna’s father had a friend in the Indian community, Mr. Tikoo, who works as a postman (Mr. Tikoo is played by the wonderful Saeed Jaffrey, who also plays Krishna’s uncle Lallu Bhai, as well as the Lord Krishna). It is at or around Mr. Tikoo’s house that the most intense action takes place. His wife was killed in the same air disaster that killed Krishna’s family, and he now lives with his mother, the formidable Grandma; his very young son Babu, who is regularly set upon by three especially revolting and racist Caucasian neighbourhood bullies; and his two grown daughters. One is a sharp lawyer who calls Indian men “mother-loving, women-hating” so-and-sos (I found that juxtaposition incredibly illuminating), and who consequently dates a Caucasian Canadian. The other is a bit more traditional-seeming: living at home, she works in a travel agency to save money, ostensibly for medical school, but really (and secretly) for flying lessons, for she wants to be a pilot. Flight and airplanes play a big role here. Grandma is the subversively traditionalist heart and soul of the household because she has a direct line to God — well, one of the many in the Hindu pantheon — via her television-VCR set: she can summon the Lord Krishna himself, his very Blueness, who is at her remote’s bidding. He is incredibly good-humoured and gracious most of the time, but even gods have their limits.

It’s this household that Krishna (the prodigal son) gets involved with most intimately, and it is they who provide the foil for Krishna’s character development as he tries to complete his escape from “Indianness” or, alternately, find his way back to it. The movie doesn’t end happily, unfortunately, which was too bad (I’m a sucker for happy endings…). Furthermore, the awareness of not being able to feel anything — which was also expressed by Lord Krishna, albeit to a different degree — is passed to the daughter who wants to be a pilot. I’m still mulling that over: is the problem of knowing what (or how) to feel (or simply having feelings) what brings us into the divine sphere (realm of gods)? Or does everyone else already have feelings naturally, and it’s the ones who fall away from the divine who lose theirs? Perhaps the former. I had the impression that those characters playing their cultural parts without too much worry were the ones most likely to be pushed around by the gods, to be their playthings because they were unaware, unconscious. While the ones who were awakening to the need to feel were the ones climbing closer to divinity (and danger, uncertainty). But that could be completely off the mark.

At any rate, a must-see film — even 15 years later.


zac February 3, 2006 at 10:36 pm

Hi Yule. I will try to get hold of Fly Away Home. I recently saw “City of Joy”, made at around the same time. My review: City of Joy review

Yule Heibel February 3, 2006 at 11:01 pm

Hey Zac — make sure you get Masala, though — Fly Away Home is a different movie altogether! I’ll check out your City of Joy review, too. Just looked it up on and it looks really interesting… Thanks for the tip!

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