Saturday, June 12, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: India Sweets and Spices

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

India Sweets and Spices
Directed by Geeta Malik
Spotlight Narrative – Screening Information

Every culture has defining elements that make it distinct from others and at the same time very universal. Those who grow up with a positive relationship to their heritage and community are likely to remain close to them, while anyone who has a negative experience may choose to rebel and abandon what they used to know in favor of something more welcoming or encouraging. Completely separating from family or friends may not be possible, and those living in two worlds may feel pulled apart by expectations from home that clash with what their daily lives look like and what they’re determined to accomplish with their legacies.

Alia (Sophia Ali) has had a transformative first year at UCLA, and coming back to her Indian-American community in New Jersey shocks her back into a life and culture that looks nothing like her college experience. She upsets the delicate balance of things by inviting the new local shopkeepers whose son Varun (Rish Shah) she finds attractive and whose spot on the social hierarchy doesn’t match that of her upscale family to a lavish party. When an unexpected connection between Varun’s mother Bhairavi (Deepti Gupta) and Alia’s mother Sheila (Manisha Koirala) is revealed, Alia begins to question how much of her identity is based on principles and attitudes that are out of touch with modernity.

This film presents an entertaining story within this cultural framework, showcasing its protagonist as the young upstart whose immersion in secular American woke life prompts her to question everything she knows and take active steps to dismantle learned habits within her community. It’s a marvelous instance of stereotypes turned on their heads, used to create the outline of characters but then enhanced by gradually unveiled depth that explains the masks people put on to try to fit in and seem normal.

Ali is fantastic as Alia, so bitingly sarcastic and eager to take charge of a life that she hasn’t always felt was hers and which she has found for herself after having left home to experience the real world. Gupta, who I had the privilege to interview about the film, and Koirala deliver strong performances as contrasting examples of Indian-American mothers who hold by different values, and the rest of the ensemble mainly supports the comedy aspects of this film. It’s one that affirms Indian-American identity as valid and distinct and will also remind many from different cultures about their own clashes with what they’ve always been taught, bringing centuries of customs into a modern and evolved world.


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