Writer-director Geet Malik brings us a comedy that begins as a romance, but ends up as a mother-daughter bonding tale. Although it begins in Los Angeles, most of the action takes place on the other coast, in a posh New Jersey suburb, but that doesn’t keep things from heating up in the non-fictional Los Angeles.
Malik is writing about what she knows and she is based in Los Angeles although Georgia filled in for New Jersey during shooting.
Her film, “India Sweets and Spices,” focuses on a woman, Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali) who has just completed her first year at UCLA and returns to the East Coast to spend the summer with her parents. She brings a surprise: She’s cut her hair short as part of a drunken finals celebration the day before her flight. At home, her surprised mother takes the matter coolly, but women, hair and social roles will be one of the themes casually explored here.
At home, Alia is drawn to the handsome son of the local Indian specialty market, Varun (Rish Shah) and impulsively invites him and his parents to her mother’s elegant party. These parties are all pomp, where women show off their beautiful sari and boast about their children’s accomplishment. There’s a little hopeful matching making involved. The Duttas, who have just taken over the small market, arrive and clearly, the Indian American community is established enough to allow for class lines to be solidly cemented. The Duttas are faced with the snobbery of their well-to-do clients and yet Varun’s mother, Bhairavi Dutta (Deepti Gupta) seems to have known Sheila before she got married to Alia’s father, Ranjit (Adil Hussain).
“India Sweets and Spices” suffers from sometimes awkward acting and a sitcom feel. One wishes that Malik had better explored the issues of hair and femininity and food in Indian and Indian American culture, but that may be the foodie and bitterly bad hair me talking. On the issue of class snobbery, the film could have been as the toned-down-from-the-novel “Crazy Rich Asians,” but the film isn’t crazy or layered enough to rival that.
Of course, Malik isn’t dealing with the kind of budget that film had nor does Malik have the experience in handling movement as director Jon M. Chu did. “India Sweets and Spices” is Malik’s second feature length effort after the 2011 “Troublemaker.” Exploring women and their struggles to find their place with in their subcultures and the greater cultural setting needs more voices and perhaps in time Malik will gain a more assured voice.
To find that voice, Malik might also have to listen to other community voices. Originally called “Dinner with Friend,” the script won an Academy Nicholl Fellowship in 2016 according to Variety. The India Sweets and Spices store is described, according to Variety as “a dingy grocery store in the corner of a mini-mall,” and “small and cramped.” If you’ve lived in Los Angeles and enjoyed Indian food enough to venture to a market, you’ll be familiar with the local stores that are actually called India Sweets and Spices. The name is trademarked by the Jawa family, and Raj Jawa, whose father started the franchise, has complained about the filmmakers’ usage of the name in the title. The Jawa family only hold the trademark for restaurants, grocery stores and rice and flour retail so legally it doesn’t seem that the film comes under trademark infringement.
Someone once said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Maybe the store and the filmmakers can find some common meeting ground and that too may make the movie or result in more movie making. “India Sweets and Spices” made its world premiere at Tribeca on 10 June 2021.