Produced, written, and starring Sujata Day, Definition Please is a dramedy following an Indian-American former spelling bee champion. Day portrays a twenty-something woman, Monica, who cares for her sick mother while tutoring students to become spelling bee champions in her hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Feeling the pressure of being a former child genius, Monica only feels the tension increase when her estranged brother, Sonny (Ritesh Rajan), comes back to town.
The first 40 minutes of Definition Please feel like filler: we see Monica and her best friend hanging out and how Monica struggles with tutoring a child with an overbearing mother. Her brother moves back into town and seems eager to restart a relationship with Monica. Sonny is quirky and sometimes oversteps boundaries—for instance, he scares Monica’s hookup in what he intends to be a joke, but Monica (and the audience) sees it as a rude move. Though watchable, this part of Definition Please did not feel fresh or new.
But around the halfway mark, Definition Please transforms from a silly dramedy to a nuanced meditation on mental illness in the Indian-American community. The audience learns that Sonny is dealing with bipolar disorder, the reason for the family’s tense relationships. Definition Please really excels at showcasing the way that Sonny’s illness affects his family, both through scenes where the family argues, as well as discussions about Sonny between Monica and her mother. But what Definition Please does best is that it humanizes Sonny—bipolar disorder has often been demonized in mainstream media, but Definition Please showcases Sonny as a normal person who is struggling with something he can not necessarily control.
However, there are still some issues: sometimes scenes felt a bit too long. For example, in the middle of the movie, Monica and Sonny put on a drama show for their mother in order to cheer her up. This scene was meant to show the strain in the siblings’ relationship and act as comic relief but was only able to achieve the former. Perhaps it would have been funny as a quick one-minute montage, but its runtime was simply too long to be funny.
And while most of Definition Please is believable, some scenes just feel out of place with the realistic family that Day has created. For example, Sonny and Monica’s mother faked her deathbed, in order to make them closer together. Again, this scene was meant to add comic relief, but it fell flat. This is not to say that Definition Please is not funny—there were numerous hilarious moments, but these scenes really stood out compared to the rest of the movie.
Even with script issues, Definition Please has great acting. All of the main cast were well suited for their roles. Even when the script felt a bit faulty, they were able to portray their characters Day and Rajan in particular were amazing: Day’s portrayal of Monica was perfectly sarcastic, while Rajan was able to clearly convey the complexities and nuances of mental illness in a way that felt both natural and realistic. Moreover, Dev and Rajan had great chemistry as siblings: their little quips in their conversations and their references to shared memories seemed both believable and interesting.
Overall, Definition Please transitions from an okay movie to a great movie as it tackles the topic of mental health and the way it affects Indian-American families in a nuanced way.
Pavana Upadhyaya is a junior at Leland High School and an intern at India Currents. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and playing the piano.