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Perpetually In-Between, “The Road Home” Articulates the Third Culture Kid Story

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“Indian! Indian!” They yell at the little boy.

Nobody ever yelled at me at school, but I could relate to Pico, a ten-year old British-Indian student left at a boarding school in the Himalayas. I could relate to him because he was running away from feeling homeless without ever arriving at a place he could call home.

Based partially on the director’s childhood experiences, The Road Home tells the story of Pico, who thinks of himself as British, but is taunted by bullies who perceive him as denying his Indian heritage. To escape the bullies, Pico decides that peace will only be found back home in England, so one morning he sneaks out of school for the New Delhi Airport.

I haven’t watched many – if any – films about Third Culture Kids. Lost in Translation and The Terminal capture that feeling of being between worlds – trapped in everywhere and nowhere – but Rahul Gandotra’s The Road Home was the first film I’d seen that I recognized my Third Culture Kid self in.

In watching the film, I was reminded that so much of what defines a Third Culture Kid is impossible to articulate – sometimes it feels like there just aren’t words to describe how it feels to be perpetually stuck in the in-between.

“The problem starts when others use only my physicality to determine or assume my identity,” Gandotra said. “This is where the frustration starts for me; when people ignore or disregard how you see yourself and then tell you how you should see yourself even though they don’t know much about you.”

The isolation that Pico feels is what I could relate to – the ability to interact with a range of nationalities without ever really feeling like a true ambassador of any of them. I could understand Pico’s desire to fully assimilate and to belong – and his inability to understand that he never would and that this was something worth celebrating, not mourning.

The twenty-minute film details what happens along Pico’s escape, as he meets a taxi driver, a French backpacker, and a pair of British tourists who all make mistakes in guessing his identity and therefore increase his frustration with the inevitable realization that those around him do not see him the way he sees himself. I could relate to this frustration as well as the frustration that prompts Pico to escape from school, although we never really find out if Pico is trying to run away from the bullies, from himself, or simply from his school.

The school that Pico escapes from is the same one that the filmmaker attended. Gandotra was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in eight countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and America. He eventually attained his MA in film directing at the London Film School and traveled to the Himalayas to direct this film for his master’s thesis.

The Road Home has played in more than 60 international film festivals and won over 20 awards, was nominated for the British Independent Film Awards and shortlisted for the 2012 Oscars. Producers have approached Gandotra asking him to make a full-length feature based on the short film.

I was interested in how the idea for the film began. When I reached out to Gandotra via email, he confessed that he had been working on another idea for his thesis when someone said to him, “You’ve had such an interesting life. Why don’t you write about your life in Prague?”

“Huh?” he thought. “Where’s the interesting story in that?”

A few weeks went by and he woke up one morning asking himself, “Why don’t I make it about me in my boarding school? But again where’s the interesting story in that?”

The kernel of an idea transformed. “Why don’t I make it about a boy running away from a boarding school? That’s better,” he said. “But how would I make this about ‘the search for home’ if he’s running away from a school? Well, that wouldn’t work but perhaps it could be about the ‘search for identity’?”

Then he freaked out: “Are you out of your mind?” he asked himself. “How the hell are you going to shoot a film in the Himalayas with no contacts there and not enough money to do this as a master’s thesis film?” His fear stopped him from entertaining the thought of even writing the script.

Actually, he continued writing another script fully believing that he would make that one work, until he had lunch with an acquaintance where he shared both script ideas. The acquaintance absolutely lit up at the Himalaya idea. “Literally for 30 minutes he said, ‘I can see it as a feature and your short will be a preview for it. That’s the one you have to do.’”

“I hadn’t even thought of it as a feature before then,” says Gandotra. “Anyhow, seven months later I finally gathered the courage to write a first draft.”

Between multiple projects, it took him two years to make the film, prepping in London and New Delhi while shooting in Mussoorie, India.

“My aim and hope is to get as many people to watch the short in advance of my first feature film, which will be an expansion of the short film,” he said. “There, I will delve deeper into the TCK themes than I could in the short, though I’ll be following a different storyline.”

Watch the film at roadhomefilm.com.

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