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Meet the Filmmaker: Rishi Bhilawadikar

In his first feature film For Here or To Go?, Bhilawadikar examines the risk of leaving your home country for new opportunities.

March 9, 2016

Seattle is home to major tech companies and startups alike. The city's booming tech industry attracts talent from all over the world. For those leaving their home countries to seek new opportunities here, it’s a risk not always worth the reward. In his first feature film For Here or To Go?, writer and producer Rishi Bhilawadikar dissects this phenomenon. For Here or To Go? recently screened at the 2016 Seattle Asian American Film Festival.

Rishi Bhilawadikar

For Here or To Go? tells the story of Vivek, a young software engineer living in San Francisco whose work visa is expiring in less than a year. Vivek must decide whether to fight to keep his dream alive or return home to India. The comedy-drama film highlights the aspirations of young immigrant professionals and the legal visa battles they face.

“Nobody was telling the story,” says Bhilawadikar. “This in-between period where you’re trying to get accepted, you’re trying to assimilate, or make life home away from home — nobody tells that story. Hopefully this is that story.”

The film features a strong cast of Indian and Indian-American actors. In the film, Vivek lives with two roommates, each at different stages of the immigration process, and each with their own frustrations. “It’s very American in mind, but Indian at heart,” says Bhilawadikar.

Ali Fazal and Melanie Kannokada outside San Jose City Hall in 'For Here or To Go?' directed by Rucha Humnabadkar. (Credit: Sean Graham)

Bhilawadikar drew on his own experiences as a tech professional on a work visa, as well as those of his friends. He also worked with community members, policymakers and immigration lawyers as part of the research for the film.

“There’s no authentic media or legal representation for an immigrant like me or millions of others who come in here legally and are stuck in greencard queues for the longest time,” Rishi says. “The best, most productive years of somebody’s life and [they are restricted by] a [system] that’s really archaic.”

Melanie Kannokada and Ali Fazal in 'For Here or To Go?' directed by Rucha Humnabadkar. (Credit: Many Cups of Chai Films)

As a first-time screenplay writer, Bhilawadikar approached it like any other work project. “As an engineer and designer, I love to solve a problem. For me, this is a product. It’s a solution to create empathy. What better way to do it than a film?”

Omi Vaidya at Sunnyvale Hindu Temple in 'For Here or To Go?' directed by Rucha Humnabadkar. (Credit: Many Cups of Chai Films)

The film has resonated with viewers around the world at film festivals across North America, India, England and Australia. Now Bhilawadikar is working hard to distribute the film to more mainstream audiences as well as policy and law forums during this election year.

“Hopefully you see more of these [characters] in media and that inspires you to take action,” Bhilawadikar says.

Learn more about the film here.

Ali Fazal and Samrat Chakrabarti at Madhuban Indian Cuisine in San Jose, in a scene from 'For Here or To Go?' directed by Rucha Humnabadkar. (Credit: Many Cups of Chai Films)

Feature photo: A scene from 'For Here or To Go?' directed by Rucha Humnabadkar. (Credit: Many Cups of Chai Films)

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