A brief description of the story:
It is the story of a female Russian immigrant in a desperate situation. The heroine is an unassertive young woman from the Russian hinterland whose life is transformed when her alcoholic husband treacherously sells her to a clandestine brothel in the United States.  She has never been self-confident, but now she finds the inner strength to stand up to her captors and help other women in the same plight. She stoically endures the hardships of life as an immigrant (an illegal one at first), with support from a homeless drifter who has become close to her. She starts her own business and confidently builds a new life. When she finds love, it is the drama of two soul mates, a drama of devotion and true friendship but also base deeds and betrayal…

Suren Ter-Avakian

The American Balalaika - screenplay work plan


   Tatyana lives in a provincial Russian town, the only child of a widower named Nikolai. He is a folk musician, well-known in the town. The two of them live together in a well-furnished house. Nikolai is seriously ill and knows that he will die soon.

   To honor Nikolai for his musical achievements, his friends and loved ones have gathered in a modest restaurant. Nikolai tells them all about how dearly he loves his daughter Tatyana. He goes on to say that since the death of his wife, he has been living and working for her alone. He adds that he plans to give all of his savings to his daughter as a dowry when she marries. Ending his speech, Nikolai takes out the balalaika he has been using in recent years and gives it to Tatyana. Meanwhile, Igor, an ambitious young man who happened to be present in the restaurant, has overheard the speech. He examines Tatyana. She is an attractive, cheerful young woman, about 30 years old. She is somewhat carefree in her attitude, but also can be clear-headed as necessary. Her eyes are frank and inspire trust. Igor meets Tatyana on the dance floor and introduces himself as a businessman from Moscow who is passing through her town. He is gay, courteous, and gallant. He makes a favorable impression on Tatyana.
They begin to meet, and before long Igor proposes to Tatyana. She is not sure if she really loves Igor, but around this time her father dies, and Igor is the only person remaining who is close to her. Tatyana accepts his marriage proposal and moves in with him in Moscow.

   Igor’s life in Moscow is not comfortable or well-organized. He lives on the outskirts of the capital in a small, dreary, two-room apartment – completely unlike what Tatyana imagined from Igor’s glamorous stories. But the inconveniences of life do not discourage Tatyana, who believes in her husband. She tries to help him the best she can. Her advice is full of common sense, along with confidence and the firmness of a strong personality. Not wishing to injure Igor’s vanity, she doesn’t force her opinions on him. She tries to give in to him in every way, believing that in any case a man should know better than her, a mere woman. At least that is what he thinks, and Tatyana agrees without complaint. Unlike Tatyana, Igor does not give evidence of a strong personality: he is cowardly, weak-willed, overly vain and egotistical. Dealing with his wife, he tries to show his superiority in every way, smiling condescendingly whenever she gives advice.

   Igor’s business has to do with a travel agency which is not doing very well and requires a large injection of capital. Igor persuades Tatyana to invest all of her money in his business, and to sell the house she has inherited from her father. As soon as he gets all her money, Igor’s attitude to Tatyana changes sharply. He becomes rude and arrogant, ridiculing her provincial ways, her directness, her child-like sincerity, and the purity of her views. He is convinced that only cruel, cunning people free from sentimentality and human warmth can survive in this world. Tatyana’s life becomes unbearable. She is subjected to ever more frequent humiliations from her husband. A Russian woman, raised by tradition to be faithful and devoted to her husband, she patiently puts up with all this.

   Igor no longer conceals his dislike of Tatyana. He doesn’t even bother to conceal from her his lover, a woman who, it becomes clear, he knew before he met Tatyana. In order to prop up his business Igor joins up with some sinister individuals who are engaged in the business of illegally sending Russian girls to brothels in western countries. One of the partners in this business learns how Igor feels about his wife and offers him a deal which will kill two birds with one stone: Igor will get rid of his wife, whom he no longer needs; and he will make some money. The offer is to sell his wife abroad.
   On the following day Igor is unbelievably polite to Tatyana. He asks her to forgive him for his rude behavior toward her in the past, and as a gesture of reconciliation he offers to send her on a trip to America. Tatyana is happy to accept the offer and departs for America accompanied by Igor’s friends and several young ladies. Igor promises to join the travelers at a later date, after taking care of some urgent business in Russia.
   When she arrives in America, Tatyana realizes that she has been tricked. Igor’s friends turn out to be common criminals, white slavers who buy and sell prostitutes. Intimidating the women and taking away their documents, they house them in a secret brothel where they are forced into prostitution. Not knowing the laws or the English language, the women are powerless and must obey. But Tatyana gets lucky and obtains her documents back, after which she flees the brothel.
   Wandering around the city in search of shelter, she makes the acquaintance of Russian immigrants who help her to set up an illegal life in America. Tatyana finds a low-wage job with only one goal in mind: to save enough to pay for her return to Russia. Aware that the criminals who brought her to America are going to be looking for her, she tries to change her appearance, using new clothing, a different hairdo, and makeup. Her cheerful disposition disappears, and a permanent wrinkle appears on her forehead.
   One day on her way home from work, while waiting at a bus stop, Tatyana runs into the white slavers face to face. They recognize her immediately despite her attempts at disguise. She manages to escape miraculously, but the white slavers grab her purse, which contains her money and her documents, which are her last hope for returning to Russia.
   Being an illegal alien in America is hard, especially for a woman. Tatyana experiences all the hardships of someone working and living in America without papers. She scrapes by thanks to casual jobs which barely give her enough for food and shelter. She lives from hand to mouth, in constant fear of being kidnapped by the white slavers or discovered by the police. She thinks that the police would put her in prison if she were discovered. It seems to her that she will never escape her predicament.
   Trying to dull the pain she has suffered, she gradually begins to drink alcohol. After losing one job after another, she eventually finds herself unable to get another job, since no one is willing to hire a woman who drinks, and her appearance is enough to scare off any potential employer. Unemployed, Tatyana can no longer pay for the little room she has been renting and becomes homeless. Having lost her final hope for a return to her homeland, she walks aimlessly down the city streets contemplating suicide.




   Joshua is a homeless man, though he doesn’t push a shopping cart around the streets of the city. He owns a car – an old beat-up Chevrolet in which he lives and stores his few belongings. Today is a special day for Josh. He has gotten hold of an interesting book, one he has been tracking down for a long time. Actually he stole it in a store. Making himself comfortable in his car, parked on a quiet city street, he leans back in the seat and begins to read avidly. He doesn’t even notice as day gives way to twilight. Suddenly he hears a woman’s scream. He glances out the window and sees a young woman struggling to get away from two young Mexican-American street-level drug pushers. Josh recognizes her as a homeless woman he has seen before in the street and even spoke to briefly. At that time she had surprised him with her education and strange accent. He can’t stand to see a woman mistreated that way, and jumps out of the car brandishing a monkey wrench. After driving off the attackers, he grabs the woman, puts her in the car and drives her away to safety.

   We recognize that the woman is Tatyana. Josh is a loner and avoids making any kind of acquaintances, especially with women. But after saving this unfortunate woman he is forced to make her acquaintance.
   As it turns out, Josh and Tatyana both have unusual stories, different but in a strange way similar. They are both people who have been cruelly deceived by others and have wound up at the margins of society, at the very bottom.
Once Josh had been married with a pretty good job. He was head over heels in love with his wife and believed that she loved him the same way. He never recovered from the blow he took upon learning that his wife had been cheating on him for several years with a close friend of his, a man she believed to be more successful and talented than him. Josh took to drinking and lost everything: love, home, job. Above all he lost interest in life. He then vowed never to get involved with any other human being. He became a hermit in the big city, making himself a prisoner in his own car. His only friends were books.
   Full of pity for this Russian stranger with her bizarre past, Josh gives Tatyana temporary refuge in his car. Tatyana has no alternative to accepting his help and tries to enter into his life. Together they pick up and recycle empty bottles and cans to be able to buy a bit of food. In the evenings, they sit the car and converse. Tatyana is surprised to find out that all the books being read by Josh are about technical innovations in the field of electronics. Josh assures Tatyana that there is nothing unusual about it, since that was his field when he had a job. Somehow, on a subconscious level, there arises a certain spiritual attachment between Josh and Tatyana. They have similar ideas on loyalty, honesty, and love. They are equally sincere in their feelings. They become friends without noticing it. Josh is revealed to Tatyana as a loyal and devoted companion, who conceals behind his external severity a soft and vulnerable soul. He knows very little about Russia. Once in a photograph he had seen a cluster of rowan berries from Russia.

   “They were so red,” he says. “They must be tasty.”

   “Actually they are bitter,” Tatyana answers to his disappointment. She hastens to add that after the first frost, the rowan berries become very tasty.

   Sighing, Josh mentions that he will probably never have then chance to taste them, though he had once thought that anything is possible in this life if you try hard enough... Now he is sure that this is not so…


   Once, early in the morning, walking about in search of cans and bottles with a bag on her back, Tatyana literally bumps into the white slavers as they are coming out of a car. The streets are empty. There is no place for her to run and no one she can turn to for help. Caught off guard, Tatyana screams and jumps to one side. But she is amazed when the white slavers fail to recognize her. They curse her out, call her a crazy bum, and then walk away, after first kicking over her bag full of cans.
   At first Tatyana is overjoyed, but then she runs to a store window and looks at her reflection. This is probably the first time she has done so for weeks. She is horrified. She realizes that she has changed, not only in appearance but inside as well. She realizes that her personality has died.
   Josh locates Tatyana after a brief searching. When he sees her, she is sobbing and trying to cross a busy intersection against a red light. At risk of being run over himself, Josh manages to return Tatyana to the safety of the sidewalk. Then he drives her off to a quieter place. On the way, Tatyana tells Josh what happened. Josh feels moved and is filled with hatred for the white slavers who ruined her life. Josh understands that Tatyana is ready to face the worst that can happen and attempts to persuade her not to commit suicide. He is able to do so, with difficulty. Uplifted by her friend’s support, Tatyana once again feels like fighting for her life. She is no longer content to accept what her life has become and the first thing she wants to do is to get her documents back, so that she will be able to return to Russia. Josh and Tatyana develop a plan of action.
   Having located the secret brothel, the friends begin the implementation of their plan. Josh finds clothing that is more or less suitable, and goes into the brothel as a client, taking all his savings. After going through a lengthy series of adventures while wandering through the brothel, he miraculously finds, in a drawer in the office, a purse containing numerous documents. He also grabs whatever else he can get his hands on. He swiftly slips into a leather coat hanging by the door to the office and grabs a laptop lying on the desk. Someone notices the outsider in the office and begins chasing Josh, but Tatyana is near the exit, waiting in the car for him with the motor running. They barely escape from their pursuers.
   The friends joyfully celebrate their success. On the outskirts of the city, in a quiet and dark area, two tiny lights shine – two candles burning in Josh’s car. A bottle of vintage wine makes them tipsy and they laugh, reliving what they have gone through. Theirs is a world of two individuals who have been abandoned by everyone else, but who are close to each other, a world inside an old car which now seems spacious, warm, and comfortable.
   The next day, going through their booty, the friends understand that the stolen laptop contains banking information that must be valuable to the white slavers, as well as information about all the captive women who have been brought here from Russia. In an inside pocket, they discover an American driver’s license in Tatyana’s name. She is baffled at first, but together the two of them figure out that it is a forged license and that the white slavers must have used it to open a bank account in which they are storing their money. Digging deeper into what the laptop contains, Josh finds the bank account with Tatyana’s name, and it has a sizeable balance. The friends hatch a daring plan: they will use the forged driver’s license to withdraw money from the account, as compensation for the money Igor had stolen from Tatyana. At the same time, they plan to hand over all information about the criminal activity of the white slavers to the police and thereby save the other victims who are still in captivity.
   Buoyed by their initial success and moved by the desire to restore justice, the friends start implementing their dangerous plans. After figuring out exactly what to do,, the friends go to a nearby bank. They are in a hurry, aware that the white slavers may figure out that their money may be vulnerable and do something to protect it. They are right. As the friends drive toward the bank, the slow-witted white slavers finally realize that their accounts may be robbed. They rush to the bank in order to close the vulnerable accounts. But Josh and Tatyana beat them to the punch, getting the money. They pass by the white slavers right near the bank exit.
   Danger pursues them. But the friends have no way out. In order to have a definitive victory they can only go forward. Planning to making use of Josh’s knowledge of electronics, they walk into a computer store. They connect the laptop to the Internet and transfer all the information about the white slavers to a police station.
   Finally they can breathe a sigh of relief, confident that the information they have provided will be more than sufficient to put all the villains of this evil traffic behind bars. Tatyana apparently has nothing more to fear and may safely return to Russia. But she is aware that there are other young Russian women here who have been taken out of Russia by trickery and whose documents are now in her hands. After returning to the brothel a few days later, she discovers that the white slavers have gone into hiding while the young women have scattered to the four winds. Tatyana realizes what kind of a future is ins store for them. In order to find them without attracting the attention of the white slave gang, who are still at large. Tatyana and Josh decide to found a non-profit that will help homeless people. Under the auspices of the non-profit they put out fliers all over the city telling about the help for homeless people they provide, and asking about Russian immigrants who have lost their documentation. Their idea works, and they are able to locate the young women who had fled the brothel. At the same time, they start working with other homeless people, complete strangers to them, and with other people who are in need of help. Tatyana and Josh, having gone through all the hardships of homeless existence themselves, are in a position to give useful advice to others. After a short period of time it becomes clear that Tatyana’s brainchild has grown into a serious and socially useful endeavor. The non-profit attracts attention and receives approval from the municipal authorities in the form of financial support.
   Tatyana turns out to have amazing business and organizational talent which was dormant before. The strength of her personality becomes evident: she has survived in an arduous situation and put herself back on her feet. Every day Tatyana becomes more self-confident. She experiences her independence with greater and greater strength. She becomes self-conscious of herself as an individual and appreciates her own worth.
   Finally the day comes when Tatyana is able to find the owner of the last of the documents she has been holding. The young woman’s name is Alla. She complains to Tatyana that she is being pursued and still being pressured to be a prostitute by the two white slavers who had tormented Tatyana and have still managed to avoid arrest. Tatyana consoles Alla and promises to help. But as soon as Alla leaves Tatyana’s office, she runs into the white slavers. They are stunned to see Tatyana and Alla together. Tatyana is a changed woman. Strong, willful, the director of a non-profit well-known in the city. The mere sight of this woman is enough to stun the thugs. Tatyana needs only to glance at them to see very clearly what puny and pathetic figures they truly are. The villains, dumbfounded, retreat from Tatyana, who advances menacingly toward them in a rage and tells them in no uncertain terms what she thinks of them and what she plans to do with them. Continuing to back away like cowards, they still try to growl in the a threatening manner, taking nervous glances at Josh, who is standing nearby, ready to act. But nothing can stop Tatyana. They rush to the exit, pushing each other aside. One of them stumbles and ends up on his knees by the exit, continuing to mumble idiotic threats. Tatyana cannot resist the temptation to physically kick the scoundrel out the door onto the street, and her act is greeted by spontaneous applause from the employees of the non-profit who have gathered to watch the events.


   Now Tatyana is free to return to Russia. It seems that not a single thing stands in the way of her doing so.
In the lobby of the non-profit she founded, at a going-away banquet, Josh returns to Tatyana the balalaika, which has been restored. Handing the instrument to her in front of the spectators, he apologizes for the fact that the balalaika looks different now: it had been so badly damaged that the restorer had to add some metal parts for stability and add a pick-up to increase the sound,. The strings of the balalaika vibrate, giving off a quite new and unusual, amazingly beautiful sound. Tears come to Tatyana’s eyes.



   Josh takes Tatyana to the airport in his old Chevrolet. Tatyana asked him to do so herself. As he had done before, Josh lights two candles and fills two wine glasses,
   Looking into the widow of the plane as it takes off, Tatyana sees the old Chevrolet, still parked on the side of the road leading to the airport with two tiny lights glowing above the driver’s seat.
   Russia greets its daughter with a sparkling white winter. Tatyana descends from the plane and walks onto the pristine snow covering the earth, taking a first step in a new life. Russia arouses in Tatyana warm and dear memories, but this is now a different Russia. She has left behind something equally dear and close to her, far away from Russia…
   Walking into the apartment she had once inhabited with Igor, Tatyana knows that she will not spend even one hour there. She lacks even the desire for revenge. She merely wants to look this man in the eyes one more time.
Igor appears to Tatyana even more pitiful and insignificant that he really is. He himself seems to suddenly realize how unworthy he had been of the honor of living with such a majestic woman. He attempts to say something to her to excuse himself, murmuring some lies about how he knew nothing and even tried to find her and bring her back home. His voice, the disagreeable voice of a scoundrel who has been drinking, sounds to Tatyana like a monotonous drone. She closes her eyes and sees a faraway subtropical sun. She no longer hears her former husband and merely smiles. She has understood an important truth.


   She walks through the wintry streets of Moscow with a light, airy step, exposing her face to the cold wind and smiling at the sun, remote and pale.


   On a warm California evening Josh is sitting at a table, holding in his hands a glass of wine and listening to his favorite music. His door bell rings. He opens the door and sees a big bouquet of red Russian rowan berries.
   “I think that everyone’s dream must someday come true… Especially if someone loves that person,” says Tatyana, peering out from behind the bouquet.






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