Sarab S. Neelam’s Ocean of Pearls


Culture clashes on macro and micro scales, occurring all at once, are what drive doctor-turned-filmmaker Sarab S. Neelam’s overly earnest but engaging debut film Ocean of Pearls. The film opens with protagonist Amrit (Omid Abtahi) asking, “Why would someone work so hard to come to a new world, just to keep living in the old one?” He’s speaking of his father’s strict adherence to Sikh religious and cultural edicts, in which the turban is an article of faith for the older man and a burden for his son. Amrit is a brilliant young doctor based in Toronto, dutiful to family, adoring of his girlfriend, and stagnating in his career. When offered a high-profile gig in a Detroit hospital, he leaps at the chance and the film kicks into a gracefully executed, often nerve wracking foray into racism and dirty workplace politics whose radioactive fallout spills into every aspect of Amrit’s life. Ocean, which often veers toward the programmatic, is elevated by Abtahi’s taut performance. The handsome actor has a weary yet prickly quality that resonates even in tender moments between Amrit and his family or girlfriend, and that quality—more than any dialogue in the film—illustrates the toll of daily battles with bigotry.