The filmmaker describes the movie as a fictional drama about an immigrant, inspired by real events

Danish Renzu describes The Illegal as a film about a middle-class Indian student from Delhi, Hassan (Suraj Sharma), who goes to Los Angeles to study film. “He leaves his home, country and family to pursue the American dream,” Danish says over the phone from Mumbai.

The director, who grew up in Kashmir, now splits his between Mumbai and Los Angeles. “The film is the journey of an immigrant, who finds the strength to overcome obstacles and make his dream come true, which is to become a filmmaker.”

Drawing inspiration

The 34-year-old Danish studied electrical engineering at the University of California and worked for AT&T for five years before quitting to make films. “I have been an immigrant in the US. I went there at a very young age. I also was an international student and did multiple jobs to survive. I met fellow veterans and listened to the stories of their journey, which inspired me to write the script.”

About the autobiographical elements in the film, Danish says, “Of course, as an artist when you write something, you have to relate to it. The Illegal is a fictional drama about an immigrant, inspired by real events. It was mostly an inspiration for filmmakers and artists who want to make their dreams come true.”

First choice

Suraj Sharma was always Danish’s first choice for the lead. “We reached out to him when the script was ready. It was perfect timing because he graduated the same month from New York University. He loved it right away. I met Shweta Tripathi, Neelima Azeem and Adil Hussain at various film festivals across the world when I was travelling with my script. The Illegal is about a Delhi family and miraculously Shweta, Adil and Neelima are all from Delhi. It was just meant to be.”

The Illegal is shot in Los Angeles and Delhi. “We shot in Daryagunj in July. It was very hot. My crew was from LA and not used to the heat at all. They would fan themselves even if they were right in front of the fan or AC. That was funny.”

Ready for change

After two short films (In Search of America Inshallah and First Love) and two features, Half Widow and The Illegal, Danish is ready for a change. “I have been doing hard-hitting drama and would now like to explore romance and comedy. There is no genre I would not want to try. I am open to everything that comes my way and do not believe in restricting myself. At the end of the day, you want your films to be seen by a bigger, wider audience.”

A fan of the works of the Iranian director, Majid Majidi, Danish says finding a producer was difficult. “It was quite a journey, just like Hassan’s. We went through a lot but now it is out there. Everything happens for a reason.”

Universal message

Danish Renzu talks about 'The Illegal'

The Illegal got a great deal of critical appreciation including making it to the Oscar Best Picture shortlist. “It was amazing. Getting so much love was encouraging. The universal message of humanity, survival and inspiration in The Illegal struck a chord.

The pandemic was a productive time for Danish as he wrote scripts and learnt the piano. “The biggest thing is that we all survived. It was a time of being there for each other, and realising that we all connected. We got time to reflect.” There are a couple of projects in the pipeline, Danish says. “I would definitely be making an announcement soon.”

The Illegal is currently steaming on Amazon Prime Video

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