Land of Gold has just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival: read our interview with actor Iqbal Theba and find out more about this “little labor of love”.
Land of Gold is about a first-generation Punjabi young man named Kiran (Nardeep Khurmi, also the film’s writer and director) who’s about to become a father, and who decides to accept a last minute trucking job to Boston even if his wife, Preeti (Pallavi Sastry, also one of the film’s producers), is due to give birth very soon and doesn’t want him to go. But Kiran goes, leaving Preeti at home with his mother (Riti Sachdeva) and burdened by many thoughts, not only about impending fatherhood but also about his own father, Gurinder (Iqbal Theba). And it’s just when he’s lost in his own head that he happens to discover a 10-year-old Mexican-American girl (Elena, played by Caroline Valencia) hiding in his truck. It soon becomes evident that the the girl is undocumented, and Kiran takes it upon himself to take her to her uncle in Maine.
By its synopsis alone, you might have an idea of what Land of Gold is about, but the film is so much more than the compelling story of a man who grows into a father through his unexpected bonding with a young girl who shares many of his struggles. Delving on anything from the American Dream and the struggle to adjust to a new culture to the memories that define us and the trauma that haunts us, Land of Gold is a meaningful meditation on home and family, but it’s also a film that hits you hard when you least expect it to, leaving you with a glimmer of hope but also with much to think about.
In the occasion of Land of Gold ‘s World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, we spoke with actor Iqbal Theba about the film. Theba plays Kiran’s father, Gurinder, a character we barely get to see but who is everpresent in his family’s thoughts and speeches. Not only is Gurinder highly symbolic, representing a different generation than Kiran’s and serving as an example of the American Dream at its most real, but his relationship with Kiran is at the very core of the film. Read the interview to find out about how this low-budget film came to be, Theba’s involvement in it, how the character of Gurinder was crafted and what he represents, Theba’s future projects, and the importance of telling stories with South Asian characters that have a universal appeal, creating opportunities for more actors.
Iqbal Theba on the Importance of Telling Stories with A Universal Appeal and Creating Opportunities
Congratulations for Land of Gold‘s World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival! I absolutely loved the film!
Iqbal Theba: Thank you so much for your kind words and supporting our little labor of love. A lot of hard work has gone into making of this film. I am in awe of this new generation of young American film makers like Pallavi [Sastry], Keertana [Sastry] and Nardeep [Khurmi] who are telling stories with South Asian characters, stories with a universal appeal. These youngsters are not just telling humane stories but are also creating opportunities for actors like me who long to play meaningful, challenging roles, the kind of roles that were not available for the likes of me back in 1990 when I started out as a struggling actor. So, for me, projects like these are so very special. I can say, we South Asians have arrived and have a say in how we are viewed, talked about and represented in the media and society in general.
Because of the pandemic, many festivals opted for a virtual format these past few years, and we’re now back to in-person screenings. What does it feel like to attend the festival and be able to show the film to audiences on the big screen?
Iqbal Theba: It is an absolute joy to see that audiences are back in cinemas and theaters. Films, for me, are primarily made for a collective experience where a bunch of people, mainly strangers, who get together to watch a story unfold. That’s how all movies should be seen, in theaters, by people attending in person. The Pandemic took that away from us and it was very sad. Now, people are coming back to theaters and that brings me so much joy.
How Land of Gold Came To Be and What the Film is About
What drew you to the project and how did you get involved in the film?
Iqbal Theba: So, I go to this Disney Premiere of Mira The Royal Detective and this wide eyed, beautiful young woman comes running to me and says, “My name is Pallavi and I went to the University of Oklahoma, and they still talk about you at the Drama School over there!”. I screamed “Boomer!” and she said “Sooner!!”… That’s our cheer for the awesome Oklahoma Sooners. I said that she’ll have to come to my place and watch Oklahoma football games, and then we exchanged numbers. This was right before the pandemic. Then she called me a few months later and asked me if I would be interested in a virtual table read of this movie script she’s been working on. I read the script and immediately agreed to be a part of this Zoom reading. A few months later, they called my agent and offered me the role.
On paper, the film is about a man who finds an undocumented young girl in his truck and helps her look for her family, but, to me, the film is about so much more than that, tackling anything from cultural background and identity to fatherhood, family, trauma, the American Dream, and so much more.
How would you describe the film, and your character’s role in it?
Iqbal Theba: Well, you pretty much described it for me and I agree that, essentially, it is a universal story about fatherhood, family, trauma, the American dream…. It is rich in its presentation and the details…. Gurinder is a quintessential example of someone who goes through the trials and tribulations of trying to adjust to a new country and a new culture where he doesn’t really fit in. It’s also an example of how the so called American dream can turn out to be a disaster for some of us. Some of us have to pay a terrible price in pursuit of that dream.
Iqbal Theba on his Character Gurinder, and Working with Nardeep Khurmi
What was it like to work with director Nardeep Khurmi?
Iqbal Theba: LOVED it. He gave me a free hand in defining who Gurinder is. The way he dealt with everything on the set and ran the whole operation was truly commendable, given that it was a low budget film and he didn’t have the luxury of shooting only two pages a day like big budget films.
I feel that your character is so important to the story: fatherhood is one of the film’s main themes, not only because Kiran is about to become one, but also because it’s his experience with his own father – your character – that shaped him into who he is. Gurinder is mentioned right at the beginning and often alluded to and remembered throughout, but his major appearance is towards the end of the film, with this intimate, heartbreaking scene that caught me off guard and made me so emotional, because these characters, and their relationships with one another, feel so authentic and believable.
What kind of preparation went into crafting Gurinder as a character?
Iqbal Theba: Well, being a dad to two teenagers myself did help understand some of the issues that Gurinder has to deal with, the main issue being his inability to communicate with Kiran. And it’s not just generational but cultural as well. Some immigrants try to raise their kids the way they would in their countries of birth and it just doesn’t work. Like most American kids, Kiran is independent, brash, opinionated, even rude, something that’s frowned upon in Indian Culture. Gurinder is dying to connect with Kiran and he simply can’t. He doesn’t know how. That’s not how he was raised back in India.
Can you tell us more about the scene I mentioned above and how it came to life? Did Nardeep Khurmi, Caroline Valencia (who plays Elena) and yourself spend some time together before shooting it, and how did you manage to make it feel so intimate and believable?
Iqbal Theba: No, we did not spend any time preparing or rehearsing for that scene or any scene for that matter. Remember, this was a low budget film without the luxury of time. We were given the location, the house, for a certain number of hours and we had to finish shooting fairly quickly. We couldn’t afford to go over time because that costs money, money that’s always in short supply for a project like ours. And that’s why I truly admire Pallavi, Nardeep, Keertana and everyone on the set for doing exactly what they were supposed to do without making too many mistakes.
I met Caroline right before our scene and immediately loved her. She is so damn charming and that helped a lot. Before the scene I thought about my own son when he was a year old and my wife was taking him to Islamabad to see her family. I was supposed to join them a month later. But the idea of being away from my son, my True Love, for a month was too much for me. After I left them at the airport, I cried like a baby on the way back home. My son is 19 now. Now, imagine being away from your offspring, and not being able to connect when you do see him, how terribly sad it would be… There’s a reason that a part of Gurinder lives in a world where he prefers to live away from his son: when he actually sees him, it brings more pain, because his son seems so aloof and far far away from him.
What’s Next for Iqbal Theba
Finally, can you tell us about your future projects?
Iqbal Theba: There is another film which should be coming out later this year called Reminisce, with Bruce Dern, Julia Ormond and me of course… I am also writing now and I have a couple of scripts doing the rounds. I am also writing a horror series with a desi touch. I will start pitching it in the next few weeks…
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Land of Gold premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 14, 2022, after winning the Tribeca/AT&T Untold Stories prize. The film will be distributed by Warner Bros. and on HBO Max. Read our review of Land of Gold!