It may sound exotic, but it’s a tale the film’s Rarotonga-based executive producer and lead actor, Anand Naidu, believes will resonate with many in the Cook Islands - a country with many locals who have a migration story of their own, as well as a sizeable population of expatriates.
The film - which opens this Thursday at the Empire Theatre - deals with heavy subject matter, but aims to tell its story with humour, and a little romance.
Lead character Sid is played by Naidu, who is mainly known in Rarotonga through his work in the hospitality and aviation industry.
But Naidu is also a studied actor and film producer, and his character deals with a myriad of emotions as he leaves Delhi to settle in Auckland. He finds his adopted homeland to be much different than the NZ of his imagination, and is immediately absorbed into the complex processes of adaptation and integration.
Sid is studying engineering and in Delhi he was well-known. In Auckland, he’s the unrecognisable newcomer.
To fill this deficit of self-esteem, he takes on a part-time job at a restaurant to save some money for a motorbike, which will also hopefully help him catch the attention of some females.
His interest in his studies wane, and eventually he finds love with a local woman. From here, things get complex.
He sees his sister, who has been in New Zealand longer and from a younger age – blend into Kiwi society with relative ease, compared to his experience. Tensions arise in the family, and the struggle to keep his parents – and himself – happy weighs heavily on his shoulders.
“It’s a migrant’s story, their journey, their dreams and aspirations, and how those dreams and aspirations need to adapt to fit into their new world,” says Naidu.
“Sid has his dreams, he’s coming to the Western World, he wants to be the star he was back in India. But his father’s frustration is that they’ve travelled to New Zealand for their children’s education. All he wants from his kids is for them to study.”
Even though Vindaloo Empire is a story about a man travelling from the world’s second most populous nation to the South Pacific, Naidu says it’s a story many will find familiar.
“Cook Islanders also go and live abroad, and there’s many foreign workers who come here,” he said. “People here will connect to this story as if it’s their own, because everyone has a different journey but it’s also about being accepted.”
Vindaloo Empire was shot eight years ago in India and Auckland, well before the contemporary discussion the world is having about confronting racism.
Naidu acknowledges racism is often part of the experience of migrants, but through Vindaloo Empire, he says he chose to explore the subject in a subtle way. Some of the film’s characters deal with it, but when it creeps up, it’s tied to emotions such as jealousy that lead to hurtful words.
“We are dealing with acceptance and understanding,” he says. “We go into the lives of the characters, what they’re going through, their insecurities, how they are adapting, so the individuals who watch this can realise that it’s the same insecurities they may have or that everyone else has.”
“I want to see viewers laugh, cry, feel as if this has been their journey, and walk away thinking, ‘Hey, that person there is very similar to me, maybe I should try to get to know them. Instead of differences, see that there are similar human beings to ourselves.”
Vindaloo Empire opens this Thursday at the Empire Theatre in Avarua.
During the screening, movie goers will also have a chance to watch the world premier trailer for Naidu’s latest film, Stranded Pearl – a tale of “action, adventure, and romance” shot in Rarotonga two years ago.
Naidu said the film is currently in production with a release tentatively planned for early 2021.