‘On Golden Years’ Puts Spotlight on Senior Indian-Americans

Independent film motivates retirees to live life to the fullest

By Geeta Goindi

Falls Church, Virginia, July 19, 2015 – The Washington area premiere of ‘On Golden Years’, an independent film by New York Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tirlok Malik, drew a select crowd to the DC Cinemas this weekend.

Malik, highly regarded as the pioneer of independent cinema and of movies which portray the Indian-American immigrant experience, was elated with the response for the event. Over 300 eminent members of the Indian and larger South Asian community flocked to the Loehmann’s Plaza on a sweltering Sunday, typical for July.

Fortunately, the film was like a breath of fresh air focusing on an issue that one seldom, if at all, sees on celluloid: the lives of Indian-Americans post-retirement, their emotional highs and lows!

Categorized as a romantic comedy, the 85-minute film, in English, has been shot at the Shantiniketan Ashram, a sprawling and scenic retirement residence in Tavares, Florida, which currently houses 174 condominiums. The visuals of the complex are stunning and the camera masterfully dwells on the awe-inspiring landscape and the aesthetically pleasing architecture.

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At the Washington area premiere of indie film, ‘On Golden Years’ are seen: Top, left to right: Producer Iggy Ignatius, Professor Indrajit Singh Saluja, Reeves Lehmann, Journalists Lalit Jha and Tejinder Singh, Director Tirlok Malik, Gauri Singh Puri, Makeup artist Christina Smith, and Indu Gajwani. Below left: Actress Jyoti Singh is flanked by director Tirlok Malik (left) and her father Mr. Manmohan Singh Puri. Below right, from left to right: Reeves Lehmann, Professor Indrajit Singh Saluja, Iggy Ignatius, Noor Naghmi, Tirlok Malik and Indu Gajwani

‘On Golden Years’ is written and directed by Malik and produced by Iggy Ignatius. The talented cast members, based primarily in New York, include Ranjit Chowdhry, Jyoti Singh, Noor Naghmi, Reeves Lehmann, Shetal Shah, Professor Indrajit Singh Saluja, Lovllien Kaurr, Indu Gajwani, Shruti Tewari, Farokh Daruwala, Kamlesh Gupta and Sandeep Suri. The film also stars Malik who dons many caps as an actor, writer, director, producer, speaker and entrepreneur – he is the CEO of Apple Productions, Inc., and has recently launched a web-site nritvfilmclub.com for streaming Indian-American movies and promoting new talent.

Speaking to journalists about the purpose of the film, prior to the screening, Malik explained, “When we come to America, we tend to think that when the time comes to retire, we will go back to India. But, the reality is we can’t go back. The film imparts the message: live your golden years without any regret”.

He noted, “We have a lot of issues: India versus America, contentedness versus regrets. This film deals with those issues while encouraging everyone to live life to the fullest”.

Malik told us, “All my films have revolved around NRI (Non-Resident Indian) conflicts. We all have conflicts when we migrate. My first film was ‘Lonely in America’ (1992) which spoke about how we can accept the American dream, but have a difficult time accepting the culture”. His second film, in the same trilogy, was Khushiyaan (2011) about “how we leave our aging parents behind in India and come to America, and one day learn of their death. ‘On Golden Years’ is about the retirement of the American dream”, he said. “So, all my films deal with that emotional conflict of being Indian-American”.

He concurred when we pointed out that the wheel has come full circle from ‘Lonely in America’ to ‘On Golden Years’.

To his immense credit, Malik has nurtured promising artistes. “I have always given a chance to new talent”, he told us. “My whole focus has been on creating the NRI world, basically”, he said.

Noor Naghmi was the gracious host of the film’s premiere here. On hand, at the event were: Mr. Shiv Ratan, Counselor of Community Affairs at the Indian Embassy; renowned ghazal and Sufi singer Mrs. Vatsala Mehra; independent filmmaker Manan Singh Katohora; Manoj and Geeta Singh, organizers of the DC South Asian Film Festival coming up September 25-27; Dr. Zulfiquar Kazmi who served as the master of ceremonies; members of the press and media.

Naghmi, who plays a prominent part in the film, has extensive experience in theater, radio, television, and on celluloid. “I have done anything which pays”, he quips.

Onscreen, he played the role of Shyam who is very lonely after his beloved wife’s death. “He is a very romantic character and that’s the reason I loved the role”, Naghmi told us.

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the film is between Shyam and his deceased wife, Anita (Shruti Tewari), in which she gently encourages him to move on with his life.

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Artistes Noor Naghmi and Shruti Tewari in a poignant scene from the independent film, On Golden Years

We asked Naghmi, What was it like working with Tirlok Malik? He replied, “As a director, he is very stern which is good. At the same time, he does allow improvisation. That is good for me because I am a method actor. I like to create and improvise”.

He gushed, “The whole experience I had working with him and the entire team was amazing! For 30 days, we were like family living together. We were working and having fun”, sans any stress or pressure.

Actress Jyoti Singh was initially skeptical about playing a character considerably older than her, and concerned that she maybe typecast in such roles. Once she set her reservations aside and accepted the part, it was all about delivering her best and bonding with the team!

“I am thankful to Mr. Malik for giving me the opportunity to act in the film which has drama, comedy, love, life”, she told us. “I especially like the way he directs and we all work in a professional environment”. About the cast and crew, she said, “We lived at Shantiniketan and shared some wonderful moments during the making of the film”.

Jyoti admitted she was “extremely nervous” at first about being paired with the immensely talented actor Ranjit Chowdhry, who also played the lead in ‘Lonely in America’ and prominent parts in Indian comedy classics such as Basu Chatterjee’s ‘Baton Baton Mein’ (1979) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Khubsoorat’ (1980). Fortunately, he put her at ease with his great sense of humor.

Professor Indrajit Singh Saluja plays the role of a jovial Sikh senior who loves his wife (Lovllien Kaurr). He “is fiercely proud of his Indian roots and takes pride in the country of his birth”, he told us.

“The point that has been made through my character is: You may take an Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of an Indian”, he said.

About Malik, Reeves Lehmann declared, “he is my favorite director”!

Speaking to us at the film’s premiere, Lehmann said, “I am very excited about the event here. I had a fabulous time working with the rest of the cast. It was a wonderful experience”.

In the film, he plays the role of Jacob, “a retired civil rights attorney married to this beautiful Indian woman (Shetal Shah) and we have the best relationship”, he said. “We just enjoy being with each other throughout the film”.

Interestingly, Lehmann is Chairman of the Film Division at the renowned School of Visual Arts (SVA), in New York, and among his students was Indian actor Ranbir Kapoor.

We discovered that Iggy Ignatius is one-of-a-kind: film producer; entrepreneur — he owns Shantiniketan; actor – he has a cameo in ‘On Golden Years’; discerning author – the film is inspired by his book, ‘Seeking Roots’, which he wrote in 2008 prior to the establishment of the retirement residence. “At that time, it was a total fiction about how life would be in Shantiniketan”, he says, about the book. It was a vision which bore fruition!

We asked him what motivated him to get involved with the film. “Basically, this concept of togetherness after retirement” which the film conveys, he replied. “Based on current life expectancy rates, people live 20-30 years after retirement. They lead a good life, they have money. You have to discover each other, not brood over children all the time”, he reasoned.

Ignatius appeared fascinated by an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s television show which featured Pastor Rob Bell and his wife Kristen who co-wrote a compelling book, ‘Zimzum of Love’, about the deeper mysteries of marriage. Zimzum is a Hebrew word that represents the space God created outside of Himself in order to make room for the Universe. The authors believe both partners should make a conscious decision to create space outside of themselves in order to make room for the other and to prioritize their life together. “In retrospect, ‘On Golden Years’ is about reliving the Zimzum”, Ignatius said.

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The cast and crew of On Golden Years, an independent film by New York Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tirlok Malik (standing below – center)
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