Film Review: Desperate Endeavors

The story of one man's pursuit of the American dream, this earnest English-language drama about an Indian immigrant who learns the hard way that the streets of 1973 New York aren't paved with gold has some effective moments despite its reliance on clic

Determined not to resign himself to the relentless, suffocating poverty of his native India, Ram Patel (Ismail Bashey) decides to try his luck in Brooklyn. Actually, he doesn't think luck should have much to do with it: He has a friend, Bagesh (Nimo Gandhi), who's offered to put him up until he gets on his feet and comes armed with a degree in accounting and a formidable work ethic. Why shouldn't he succeed?

He had no idea that he'd be living in a slum, badgered by beggars and taunted by his African-American landlord, or that Bagesh is no more than a janitor, or that after a month of looking he'd still be no closer to employment than he was when he stepped off the plane, in part because America is in the grip of miserable recession and partly because New York is no place for a soft landing. He's quickly reduced to borrowing money to support his wife Rani (Shikha Jain) and their little girl, Tara (Alyssa Daver), whom he's beginning to realize he won't be sending for as soon as he thought.

By the time Ram scores a decent job, he's already amassed a relatively small but worrying load of personal debt, in large part because of his dedication to keeping up appearances. After all, if he doesn't dress well and own a car, he might have to admit that thus far he's actually worse off than he was back home—the land of opportunity hasn't exactly embraced him and the safety net of family and upwardly mobile friends he once took for granted is thousands of miles away.

Fortunately, though Ram's boss (Kevin Gebhard) is a tightwad who preys on recent Indian immigrants he can hire at far lower salaries than equally educated Americans would accept, Ram finds friends at work, including Sanjay (Bobby Abido), who shows him the ropes, and Dilip (Lavrenti Lopes), who's engaged to shallow gold-digger Serene (Deborah Green) and lives with his mother while trying to break into modeling, but turns out to be a pretty decent guy nonetheless. And Ram finally comes up with enough money to bring his wife and child over, albeit by borrowing a chunk of it from his new friends.

And then his troubles really start: He makes expensive purchases on credit to assuage Rani's horror at finding that her new home is a basement tenement apartment, buys a fancy new car when the inexpensive one Sanjay helped him acquire is stolen, and goes into business with yet another friend, Adesh (Samrat Chakrabarti), only to find that the stationery store in which he's invested everything is considerably less than the “Double your money in a year” goldmine Adesh promised. And on top of everything, Rani gets pregnant: Ram has no medical insurance and has exhausted the patience of his friends. Not only are they no longer good for loans, but they want—no, need—their money back; they have wives and children and landlords too.

Adapted from Jayant Patel's 1991 autobiographical memoir Seeking Home: An Immigrant's Realization, Desperate Endeavors tells a story so familiar it verges on the generic; its one distinctly Indian aspect is that Ram only achieves material success after getting his spiritual house in order by accepting the teachings of local guru Dada Bhagwan (Gulshan Grover). That said, he resists visiting Bhagwan as fiercely as any bootstrapping MBA until he's truly desperate, and the saintly Bhagwan proves less mystically pious than one might expect: When Ram ditches work to seek counsel, the guru sternly advises that "enlightenment does not come by neglecting your worldly duties." Now that's some no-nonsense talk!