Here’s a tasty peek into the overachieving, hyper-competitive and insular world of America’s affluent Indian diaspora.
“India Sweets and Spices” is a sort of “Snobby Rich Indians” comedy about a liberated activist coed coming home to the world of gossipy, shallow and acquisitive friends, family and neighbors of Ruby Hill, the swank McMansion suburb of Newark where she grew up.
To Alia — pre-med at UCLA and played by “Grey’s Anatomy” alum Sophia Ali — summer is for relaxing by the pool and judging the dickens out of the gaudy decor, gauche gossip and insufferable bragging of her parents’ circle of acquaintances — all just as affluent, each taking her turn at hosting the weekly “See my new chandelier” dinner parties.
Miss Judgy can seem a trifle superficial herself.
“I’m NOT superficial! I watch documentaries! I go to ‘spoken word.’ I use ORGANIC Chapstick!”
But self-blindness is common at that age, right? So let’s go the parties that serve as “chapters” (“Varna Party,” “Bhatia Party”) to writer-director Geeta Malik’s comic send-up of people scorned by their kids, offspring whom an earlier indie comedy labeled as “ABCD,” “American born confused-Deshi.”
And let’s watch Alia’s jaw drop at the dreamboat she sees working at the local all-things-Indian market, India Sweets and Spices. Varun (Rish Shah) may be from the retail classes. His family is the new owners of this popular, high-end store, so every time he says “poor” feel free to cringe. But liberated Alia figures these working should all come to mom’s upscale dinner party with every over-dressed designer-wearing, Lambo, Tesla or Porsche driving “friend” of her snooty, snobby parents.
Sheila (Manisha Koirala) literally looks down her nose at Varun’s mother (Deepti Gupta) who, it turns out, knew her back in the old country. They went to college together.
And Alia’s golf-obsessed sports surgeon dad (Adil Hussain) is even worse. And by “worse” I mean Alia sees him top that rudeness with something more like a betrayal.
What’s a woke coed to do? Why, throw herself at the working class lad and shun the rich pre-med hunk (Ved Sapru) who seems “chosen” for her by fate, finance and family history (their parents’ machinations).
“India Sweets” gives us two points of view, both harshly critical of an older generation that’s succeeded beyond its wildest dreams only to squander that success on consumerist nonsense and internal competition. We see Sheila’s gossipy coffee klatch and hear their constant knifing each other in the back, as if that’s their whole world.
Alia and the other kids see and hear this and roll their eyes, even as they’re the beneficiaries of all this wealth and opportunity.
“You think Indians live here?” Alia cracks to Rahu (Sapru) as they gawk at another neighbor’s “more is more” decor.
The larger if obvious point of all this is that even McMansions can be “glass houses,” and all this insular judgment and backbiting is counterproductive and not really contributing to a pluralist society’s ultimate success.
Ali makes a delightful and just-snarky-enough tour guide to this self-consciously garish world.
The film’s limited point of view has a “Crazy Rich Asians” mandate. And while it isn’t as broad and cartoonish as that — narrowing its focus to people, their houses, their parties and their gossip — it seems more firmly footed in a relatable reality. No, it’s not quite as funny.
The character arcs are predictable, as are the melodramatic twists. But there’s a humanity in the messaging, a “Can these narcissistic boors be saved?” ethos.
It’s a lot less “spice” and a bit more “sweet” than I’d care for, but Malik has made a warm comedy that introduces, embraces and every-so-gently-chides an under-represented American community in all their glory, their fun and their foibles.
Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, sexual material, and brief drug references
Cast: Sophia Ali, Manisha Koirala, Rish Shah, Anita Kalathara, Adil Hussain and Ved Sapru.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Geeta Malik. A Bleecker Street release (now streaming and on DVD)
Running time: 1:41