About thirty years back, when I moved to America, anything Indian – a food item or random sighting of people – conjured a whimsical nostalgia. A few years passed and Indian grocery stores opened in major cities, even in our small town in North Alabama. A visit to the Indian store, brimming with sweets, spices, and lentils, was a strangely exuberant experience. The grocery store became an integral source to assemble weekend Desi parties. Geeta Malik, the director of India Sweets and Spices, got first-hand experience of these soirees. Malik witnessed the panorama from the vantage point of a child in the basement to a teenager serving samosas, and finally, to a young adult eavesdropping on whispered adult conversations. The curious writer penetrated the insecurities and hypocrisy teeming under the bejeweled sarees and lehengas.
Filmed in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, the movie centers around two Indian families — The Kapoors and Shahs. The protagonist, college freshman Alia Kapoor (Sophia Taylor Ali) is home for the weekend and wants to spend her time lazing in the swimming pool but is commissioned into running chores for her mother (Manisha Koirala).
Alia is an entitled second-generation Indian who is disconnected from her parents. She, like other kids, is trying to establish her American identity. And like other kids…A bit brash. A reluctant run to the grocery store to buy tea-biscuits brings her face to face with Varun (Rish Shah), the handsome son of the store owner. In her haste to make a connection, she invites the Shahs to her parents’ party. This tumults the Kapoor house into unexpected chaos. Her free-spirited gesture of hospitality is met with a comical confrontation.
The narrative is not just a “ha-ha” multigenerational comedy, it is more. Geeta Malik reveals an important subplot in the form of skeletons in the closet. Manisha Koirala owns the script and transforms it. From a suave suburban lady driving a Mercedes car and shopping at Neiman Marcus to a compelling feminist that she is. In an unanticipated outburst, she exposes the entire community of their character flaws. Once she is done, Alia sees her mother in her authentic avatar!
This is a story that showcases the Indian-American immigrant community but it could easily represent any ethnic community with their beleaguered efforts to keep up with the Joneses — sweeping all indiscretions under hand-knotted Kashmiri carpets, obsessively engaged in outdoing the other aunties, serving the most creative snack, and turning a blind eye to real issues at hand.”
Who needs a job? Whose marriage can be salvaged? Who needs psychiatric help?
Watch India Sweets and Spices, releasing this week globally, to find out! I hope to see more authentic stories from Geeta Malik…
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.