Danish Renzu Discusses His Brutally Honest Immigration Film

The American Dream remains frustratingly out of reach for most immigrants in the United States. Despite the promises of opportunity, they face immense barriers, obstacles, and unfair treatment that make achieving that vision of prosperity extraordinarily difficult.

In his film “The Illegal,” director Danish Renzu tells a powerful story of this stark reality, crafting a film firmly rooted in real-life accounts. We sat down with Renzu to delve into his creative process behind bringing this often-overlooked narrative to the screen.

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1. In your own words, what is The Illegal?

Danish Renzu: It’s a story of an immigrant who arrives in America to become a filmmaker but ends up losing his status and getting trapped in the vicious American dream. He loses his status and is labeled as the illegal.

2. Your background is engineering. Are there parallels between your story and the film’s main character?

Danish Renzu: Yes. Even I came to the US for higher education as an international student. I got into UCLA, my dream school but it was very expensive for international students.  During this journey I met many immigrant students who weren’t able to continue their education due to inability to pay tuition, their families back home not able to pay loans.

Many students ended up working in the restaurants or take other low paying jobs in order to survive here. This really hit me and I know there was an untold story here that must come out.

3. What inspired you to make The Illegal?

Danish Renzu: It’s my own journey as a student in America and the revelation of the American dream.  Meeting immigrants who weren’t able to make it due to financial issues and ending up quitting their jobs was eye opening and had to be translated to screen.

The script is based on true incidents and real people while I was pursuing the American dream. I realized not everybody is able to make it. Not everybody is able to live this dream. It comes with a lot of sacrifice and courage to be able to make your ambitions come true, and it takes a toll on them to be able to make it. So before tagging or labeling anyone as illegal, we must first understand there is always a story and we must empathize with their plight and connect on a human level.

4. What are the chances of Asians in America to have “happily ever afters” when it comes to their immigration stories?

Danish Renzu: There is no happily ever after. The system is created for them to fail and it’s super competitive. For example, even after you graduate from the biggest university which itself is a miracle of its own, later they have limited job options and not every company is open to sponsoring them. You’ve to not just be an extraordinary talent but you also have to be in the right place at the right time. Else you will never succeed. So the American dream is not what you see in the movies, there is a lot more to it.

5. What was the casting process like? What did Suraj and Iqbal think of the film?

Danish Renzu: Suraj was always the first choice. He graduated from the New York film school a month before we started the shoot. So when we reached out to him with the script, he right away connected to it. Iqbal Theba is also an immigrant himself and right away connected to the character. It was a dream come true to bring them together. There couldn’t have been a better cast than this.

6. It’s been three years since The Illegal was released. Is The Illegal still relevant and what lessons can 2024 take away from it?

Danish Renzu: Indeed. It’s a universal story applicable to immigrants all over the world. While it’s easy to label someone as the illegal or alien, and judge them, I think it’s imperative to look at a bigger picture and see everyone through the human lens and empathize with each other’s plight.

We are all connected to a common thread of humanity and we must ensure it doesn’t wear off and we protect it by strengthening it and unifying everyone. There are so many leaders out there who are openly divisive. We must not support these voices but instead focus on creating an environment where we promote unity, respect, and bringing people together.

The Illegal (2021)

7. What’s the most important lesson you learned from making The Illegal?

Danish Renzu: We made this film on our own with a very limited budget and had no resources to bring it out at all. But it was our team’s unifying belief and trust in the film that kept us going. There were so many challenges to finish the film and then bring it out, but we never gave up.

It was this not giving up attitude that helped open doors for the film and make it a success story. Not every independent film gets all the traction with no budget or PR.  So I’m very proud of the film and I strongly believe that if you believe in something you must never ever give up.

The Illegal is a gritty, realistic story about a young film school student from middle-class India who’s forced to drop out to support his family while staying in the United States as an undocumented worker.

Watch The Illegal on Reveel

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