Uncharted star Sophia Ali is headlining the new release India Sweets and Spices. The movie, a delightful dramedy that centers around an Indian-American family struggling to maintain their identity in a posh suburb where money and status define virtually everyone and everything around them, also features Rish Shah, who plays Carman in the forthcoming Ms. Marvel series on Disney+ and who, in India Sweets and Spices, takes point as Ali's love interest. The film will draw the inevitable comparisons to movies like Crazy Rich Asians and My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- and not unfairly, but since each of those films lovingly skewers a different subculture, each is wildly different, even if the premise feels familiar.
In India Sweets and Spices, Alia Kapur (Ali) becomes smitten with the son of a local shop owner, and invites his family to a dinner party being hosted by her own. She has no idea at the time that doing so will cause a chain reaction that plunges the rich, gossipy, Indian immigrant community into chaos.
Ali is an absolute marvel in the movie. She moves through the film with purpose, without ever losing her charisma. This is in part a result of a screenplay that presents Alia as the de-facto head of a group of next-gen Indian-American rich kids who have embraced Western culture and, for the most part, feel stifled or bemused by their parents' cultural practices. This leaves Alia as a down-to-earth presence among the wealth, largesse, and eccentricity of her community.
Over the course of the movie, some major changes in her life provoke Alia to further action, and she distances herself from her parents' expectations and goes on a bit of a quest for identity. This gives Ali the opportunity to play plenty of drama -- including a few scenes in which she is heart-wrenchingly good -- as well as some comedy. A highlight for many viewers will be a comic beat in which she briefly channels her inner Ron Livingston from Office Space and delivers a well-timed truth bomb (even if it does later blow up in her face).
There are a few other obvious standouts in a stacked cast of talented Indian and Indian-American performers, including Shah, whose Varun is Alia's perfectly charming and relatable opposite. The pair have great chemistry together, although, given how charming each of them is in the role, it seems likely they would have chemistry with just about anybody.
If there's anybody who has to do more heavy lifting and present more emotional range in the film than Ali, it's Manisha Koirala, who plays Alia's mother Sheila. At the start of the movie, you would be hard-pressed to see her journey coming, but it's wonderful. At the heart of the film is the evolution of Alia's relationship with her mother, and it would be fascinating to re-watch the movie with only that relationship in mind. It starts out with what feels like a fairly typical story of conservative immigrant parents who want their kids to conform (think Blinded By the Light, which was also charming, but which indulged pretty deeply in this trope), but the breadth of different aspects of Sheila that Koirala is called upon to play is remarkable, and she never stumbles.
There's just enough in India Sweets and Spices to feel warm and familiar. There are plenty of touchstones that non-Indian viewers can relate the film to, and that gives you just enough expectation of what it's going to be, that when the screenplay surprises you with an unexpected moment, it's genuinely surprising and emotionally impactful. No matter how kind the character, they have a moment of darkness, and no matter how seemingly irredeemable the character, they get a moment of humility or humor that brings the audience over to their side.
It's an incredibly well-thought-out screenplay, and everyone on-screen is playing the hell out of it. Even beyond the three actors named above, there are numerous -- Star Trek: Discovery's Adil Hussain, who plays Alia's father; Anita Kalathara, who plays her best friend Neha; and Deepti Gupta, who plays her mother (and might be familiar to audiences from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) spring immediately to mind, and while he doesn't have a ton to do in the film, Cobra Kai and Leverage: Redemption veteran Kamran Shaikh, who plays Varun's father, has a great moment near the end that informs so much of his character with just one action.
One of the smartest, funniest, and most welcoming movies so far in 2021, India Sweets and Spices is a must-see movie stacked with talent.
Rating: 5 out of 5
India Sweets and Spices recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. It currently doesn't have a wide release date.