How filmmaker India Sweets and Spices balanced satire and stereotype

Towards the end of “India Sweets and Spices”, the film’s protagonist, Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali) commits a shocking act of rebellion in front of the guests at her parents’ birthday party. It’s the kind of scene you dream of having on your way home after an unfortunate social interaction – or, in Geeta Malik’s case, years after one.

“There’s a little bit of wish fulfillment,” the writer-director admitted, laughing, in an interview with TheWrap. “Showdown, meet aunts – I’ve never done that sort of thing.” So much of my voice comes out [Alia’s] stuffy.”

The story begins when Alia returns home after her freshman year of college, believing herself to be a little older and wiser than she actually is. She’s hesitant to trade her independence for the chatty aunts and status-obsessed uncles of the affluent suburb where she grew up now that she’s had a taste of the world beyond.

Rish Shah, Sophia Ali and Rahul Singh in “India Sweets and Spices”. Courtesy of SK Global Entertainment

Malik’s second feature film (his first, “Troublemaker”, released in 2011) hits home in more than one way. Like her heroine, Malik is a first generation American Indian who grew up in a tight-knit immigrant community. Ruby Hill, the fictional New Jersey enclave where the film takes place, depicts her hometown of Aurora, Colorado.

In 2011, she started working on the screenplay, which was originally titled “Dinner with Friends”. He then went on to win Malik a Nicholl Academy Fellowship in Screenwriting and the Austin Film Festival’s Best Comedy Award in 2016. Bleecker Street went on to land the film after performing that year’s Tribeca Film Festival in San Diego Asian Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Malik’s first draft is mainly inspired by the dinners and the vibrant community that marked his childhood. “I just wanted to have a little fun and do some satirical comedy about it [experience], she recalls.

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But the project began to take a different form after Malik gave birth to her two children, changing the way she viewed the characters she had created.

“When I first wrote it, I approached it from the point of view of the teenager, Alia, because it felt more familiar to me,” she said. “Once I became a mom, I was much more interested in [the parents’] generation, to Sheila, and what she may have left behind.

In her daughter’s eyes, Sheila (Manisha Koirala) is the “Queen of Ruby Hill,” a socialite and homemaker who serves her place in a patriarchal society without asking questions or complaining. But behind her polished appearance, Sheila struggles with her marriage to Alia’s father, Ranjit (Adil Hussain) and her secret past as a feminist activist in India.

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For much of the film, Alia doesn’t realize that her journey “could have been very similar to her mother’s,” Malik explained. “[Sheila] was also a young, angry, vital woman and things changed for her. I really wanted to explore this more in depth.

Rish Shah and Sophia Ali in “India Sweets and Spices”. Courtesy of SK Global Entertainment

The film’s refocusing through an intergenerational lens elevated it from a comedy to a coming-of-age tale that weaves elements of drama, romance and Bollywood together. To tie it all together, a series of lavish parties enlivened by brightly colored saris and sizzling food platters.

While he is a loving portrayal of the culture Malik grew up in, “India Sweets and Spices” does not hesitate to explore prejudices within Indian society. Alia learns this firsthand when she invites the middle-class family who run the local grocery store to one of her family’s social events. With their tupperware and worn clothing, the Dutta stand out like sore thumbs among revelers accessorized with Rolex and crystal cognac goblets.

Malik said class stratification was something she was aware of in her own community, but didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate until she was older.

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“There are so many stereotypes about South Asians,” Malik told TheWrap. “I wanted to show that we’re not all rich cardiologists, we’re not all 7-Eleven workers. There is an interaction between these groups of people.

When it comes to overturning stereotypes, Malik’s weapon of choice is humor. Some of the film’s brightest moments owe to its crackling dialogue, as well as its upper-class American Indian cartoons. There’s a lot of laughs to be had when uncles slam the doors of their identical Mercedes in slow motion or groups of women cast critical glances at other people’s outfits.

“When I made fun of the community it was very authentic compared to what I went through,” said Malik. “Exaggerated, a little cartoonish, but this one-upmanship was certainly there. “

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“We start from these caricatures and these clichés, and I hope that in the end, we will understand that these [characters] are more rooted, than they are human, ”she continued. “[I hope] that when people look at it, they understand that I was trying to subvert these [stereotypes] and not just playing with them for fun only.

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Sophia Ali and Anita Kalathara in “India Sweets and Spices”. Courtesy of SK Global Entertainment

As “India Sweets and Spices” follows in the footsteps of filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha and Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding” was a big inspiration), Malik said she was ready to move beyond the double-conscious narratives that cinema has popularized over the past 20 years. .

“Movies like ‘American Desi’ and ‘ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi’ and ‘American Chai’ were awesome [because] they finally talked about the American Indian experience, ”she said. “But they were very [about] “How can I be Indian and how can I be American?” And how do these two worlds meet? “

Through Alia, Malik seeks to take over from a new generation of South Asian viewers who are more comfortable navigating hybrid identities.

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” It’s not that [question of] “How can I be myself, but also be Indian?” “She’s really both,” said Malik. “I wanted it to be more like a girl leaving home and then coming home to this little town.”

Given the high expectations that often come with portraying her culture, Malik said she understands her film might not resonate with everyone.

“If some Indians get really mad and say, ‘This is not my reality,’ I will say, ‘I totally understand, I’m not trying to say your reality. I tell the reality of my childhood and my authentic representation.

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Whether they like it or not, Malik said she hopes “India Sweets and Spices” inspires people to add their voices to the mix. “The more of us making films about our experiences, the more these stories will be told, and it won’t all be the same story,” she said.

“India Sweets and Spices” is now shown exclusively in theaters.

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