Being an H-1B immigrant in Silicon Valley has proven to be a frustrating experience for Rishi S. Bhilawadikar. In hopes of making others understand issues many people like him deal with, he decided to make a movie about it.
It had been a bumpy decade for Bhilawadikar living in the United States. After graduating from Indiana University in 2007, he tried applying to startup incubators but had difficulty finding an incubator which would sponsor his visa, Quartz reported.
Since his temporary H-1B visa allowed him to work in the U.S. for up to six years, he was still able to land some odd jobs. First, he worked as a software designer at tech firm SAP Labs, then in retail, then Walmart, and then recently got a job at the clothing brand Gap.
During this time, he started a blog titled “Stuff Desis Like,” where he began to share his immigrant experience to the public. Through writing, he was able to develop a yearning to “tell a story that creates awareness and empathy.”
The idea eventually evolved into writing a movie about the lives of H-1B immigrants in 2010.
“As an experiment, I started to write. I had a story and I had some characters in mind, [but] I didn’t know how to write a screenplay,” Bhilawadikar was quoted as saying. “I started tinkering with it, googled it, started to teach myself, took a few classes, and got better.”
After developing his script, he then looked for someone who could produce it for the big screen. While he struggled to find someone at first, an acquaintance at work would later introduce him to Rucha Humnabadkar, an amateur filmmaker who had served as an assistant director and art director to established Indian director Nagesh Kukonoor. She also had directed her own short film, “Arranged Marriage”.
Humnabadkar herself is not a stranger to Bhilawadikar’s story. As a Silicon Valley professional as well, Humnabadkar knew of the struggles of being an H-1B worker in the U.S.
“It’s a story that I have lived,” Humnabadkar said. “Same dilemma, same conflicts, same struggles.”
The experience is actually more common among Indian immigrants than others. While often accused of driving down industry wages by providing cheaper labor, Indian immigrants have consistently ranked among the most entrepreneurial leaders and job providers in the country.
According to Humnabadkar, she hopes the film will “humanize the immigration debate”, which partly involves highlighting the many contributions immigrants make to the U.S.
On Friday, March 31, Bhilawadikar’s film, “For Here or To Go”, will finally be released in theaters.
Set during the 2008 recession, the film will tackle the issues many immigrant Indians face in the eyes of a fictional aspiring Indian tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley named Vivek Pandit.
A notable scene in the film shows Vivek in a conversation with a middle-aged Sikh small business owner who reveals that his friend got killed in a hate crime.
Vivek then asked the man why he chooses to stay in the United States despite the prejudice they face, the man responded by saying that he has lived his entire adult life in the United States and that it is his country too.