Even when there’s love underneath, there’s still no pain like family pain.
Written and directed by Agam Darshi, Donkeyhead follows Mona (Darshi), a failed writer who lives at home with her ailing Sikh father. Involved with a married man and living from paycheck to paycheck, the emotionally stunted Mona is struggling to put the pieces together. When her father suffers a severe stroke, Mona’s three successful siblings return home to help her manage this difficult time. However, as his health declines, the tensions of the past begin to surface, bringing to light family secrets that threaten the stability of the home.
Set amidst the isolated urban community of Regina, Saskatchewan, Donkeyhead is a heartwarming story of a South Asian family as they attempt to wrestle with the tensions between generations. In many ways, this is a coming-of-age story for people in midlife. Tightly written and fun, the film points out that we never truly grow up yet we are also constantly changing into adulthood.
For her first feature, writer/director Darshi does an excellent job balancing multiple character arcs, giving each family member their opportunity for growth. Living at home as a writer-in-hiatus, Mona’s journey towards taking responsibility for her own life has been interrupted by the responsibility of caring for her dying father. At the same time, her brothers and sister are having difficulty coming to grips with their own personal issues, ranging from sexuality to divorce.
Personal and poignant, Donkeyhead identifies the intricacies of the South Asian experience yet the story also feels universal. With love and grace, the film demonstrates the challenges of attempting to honour one’s father while also establishing their own identities. Every sibling believes and wants to respect the wishes of their father but they also struggle to come to terms as to what that looks like in the modern era. Whether it is allowing prayer circles to invade the home or feeding guests who stream in and out of the home, they humble themselves to do what is required to honour their family traditions and culture.
However, they’re also faced with the tensions of the past. Whether they’re carrying the scars of discipline that bordered on abuse as a child or being afraid to speak about troubles in their marriage, each sibling struggles to live up to the expectations of their parents. No matter what they do, they feel like they are letting their father down.
As each character grapples with their own personal issues, shame becomes a heavy burden in this home. There is a balance between taking responsibility for our issues of the present while finding healing for the scars of the past and Darshi manages to keep this tension beautifully.
What’s more, these feelings can become even more complex with an ailing parent insofar as we can be left to process them on our own. How do you process your pain when you cannot do so with the person who caused it? Even if there is love underneath it all, hope can seem impossible when we have been hurt by another.
What does hope look like when all you have been told is that you are missing the mark?
Funny, sad and poignant, Donkeyhead is a joy from beginning to end. Caught between tradition and modern life, Darshi offers a tale that feels authentic and real. Most importantly though, Donkeyhead reminds us that who we were matters as much as who we are today.
To hear our interview with writer/director, Agam Darshi, click here.
Donkeyhead is available in theatres beginning Friday, March 11th, 2022.