To Shimla, through ‘Guava Island,’ with love

Wednesday, June 26, 2019 - 7:09pm

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Courtesy of Devak Nanua

 

PART 1

The artists that find a way to reinvent themselves with every project they put out are some of the most exciting to watch. After a while, it’s quite easy to get bored listening to the same song repeatedly or to music that you can’t relate to at all. This is what I enjoy about Donald Glover as an artist. He always manages to create new art while being relatable and sticking to a common underlying theme. It’s like his signature as an artist which makes it authentically his. I would not have expected for a funk and jazz album like Awaken, My Love! to follow projects such as Because The Internet or Kauai, which fit more under the rap and pop genre. I also would not have expected the actor that played the lovable and animated Troy Barnes on “Community” to play a more serious and painfully realistic Earn Marks on “Atlanta”.  Glover’s latest project is his short film, “Guava Island”, in which he co-stars with Rihanna and Letitia Wright. Most of the reviews that I read for this project have been positive but there are a handful of them that have described it as a great Childish Gambino music video but a bad movie. While Glover does use this film to provide visuals for his most recent songs, I believe that this short film wasn’t made to be a traditional award winning film; instead, it was made to prove a point and to send a message. 

The film circulates around the Glover’s character Deni Maroon and his love for his home Guava Island through its art, music and culture. Deni stands for artistic freedom while Guava Island is ran by an oppressive body of power lead by the main antagonist, Red. A thought-provoking and critical scene that resonated with me was when Deni walks into his shift late and overhears his co-worker talking about moving to America and opening his own business. Essentially, he talks about living the American Dream. Deni scoffs at his co-workers dream and points out that America is a “concept” and that Guava is no different. “We live in paradise but we don’t have the means to live here”.

To be honest, Deni has a very valid point here. For ages, the concept of the “American Dream” has been sought after and idealized by many immigrants. People immigrated to America based on the thought of opportunity and freedom. The opportunity to start a family and get a well paying job and more importantly to be in a position to give their kids more opportunities than they had growing up. And the freedom to live as you want to and more importantly in a place that tolerates different schools of thought. However, recently the “American Dream” seems to be a bit overrated and honestly under-delivers on many promises. We live in a country where mass shootings of schools and places of worship have become a common occurrence. We live in a country where undocumented migrant families are placed cages and forced to live in unsanitary conditions while our president has some sort of fascination with building a wall (and scarily enough has a sizable proportion of the American population who agree with him). I really could write a couple of paragraphs more about the scary reality that is America, but that would just turn this into a rant. And to be honest, I can’t defame the American Dream that much because I’m kind of living it right now. If my parents didn’t believe in it, I probably wouldn’t have the majority of the opportunities I have today. I also acknowledge that these are my opinions and that everyone is entitled to their own. But I think that a prominent thing that we should take away from art such as Glover’s is that we should all be a little more aware of the world that we live in and more importantly is that we should ask more questions and have more discussions about it.  

Throughout the film, Deni takes every opportunity he’s given to convince the audience that life on Guava still has the potential to be paradise.Deni demonstrates Guava’s potential by performing many Childish Gambino songs in a more simplistic and stripped down way. For example, “Feels like Summer” is performed with a simple three chord loop on the acoustic guitar and “This is America” seems to have its background track as noises from a working factory. At the same time all of these songs are given background visuals that show off the islands natural beauty and vibrant colors.

PART 2:

I originally started writing this because while watching this film, Deni reminded me a lot of my brother, Abhi. He’s actually my first cousin, but to compensate for being an only child and for living in a different country from the rest of the family, my mother and my aunt raised me, Abhi and my cousin/sister, Kushu, as siblings. We built our relationship through my frequent trips to India over summer break.  As a kid, Abhi’s head was disproportionately big for his body. He was quick to flash a smile, as he was always up to something. I was often an accomplice to his mischief, much to the dismay of the rest of the family. Abhi is from a small town called Palampur in Northern India. It’s close to Dharamsala, the city where the Dalai Lama lives. It’s also mentioned in “Oxford Comma” for all of you Vampire Weekend fans out there. Palampur is sort of in a valley and is surrounded by a lot of hills. It’s a great vacation spot but it’s sort of detached from the busy metropolises that sprawl across India. For some reason, as an elementary schooler, I couldn’t imagine living in such a small town. But to my comfort, at the end of each vacation Abhi would always reassure me that one day he’d move to the United States. He would always crack a goofy smile as we waved goodbye to each other. 

The last time I saw Abhi was last summer, as I returned to India after six years. The once short and smiley kid that I once knew was completely unrecognizable. He’s around 6’ 1’’ now and more of an introverted brooder. If Drake’s music was a person, that pretty much sums up my brother. There were moments during my trip when my brother became a little more recognizable, but this was mainly through the lack of coordination he possesses with his tall frame. He’s going through his first year of college in a town called Shimla, which is away from home. Therefore, my aunt can’t really keep up with him as frequently as she did. Considering that I hear about his whereabouts from my mother, who hears it from my aunt, my reactions are pretty delayed. But with every piece of information I get, it’s like I’m meeting a new person. Recently, he won a personality contest which is exactly what it sounds like, I think? He also won a traditional dance competition with his dance team. Another thing that I picked up was that he’s kind of turning away from the notion of immigrating to America and instead would rather settle down in his hometown.

Many of my family members sort of scoff at my brother like he’s going through a phase or that his hobbies take away from his time for school work. To be honest, I also thought that my brother had sort of lost it. But it’s only recently that I realized two things. The first is that I should be proud of my brother trying to give back to his hometown. He sees something in those people that no one else could possibly see and as long as he’s passionate about his work and happy where he is, there really is no reason for him to chase the American Dream. The second is that the artist that finds a way to reinvent him or herself with every project that they put out are some of the most exciting to watch. My brother is in the process of reinventing himself and I can’t wait to see what he becomes. I should also mention that he turned 19 last week. This is sort of a belated birthday gift (sorry). So as your older brother, by a whole year I offer these words. Good luck on your journey to become the sort of man that you want to be. But always remember that to me you’ll always be that kid who always seemed to find a way to make the ordinary extraordinary at our grandparent’s house in Delhi. And not to forget the kid who mistakenly drank insecticide thinking it was sprite.

 

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