Desi Talk – that’s all you need to know 29 ENTERTAINMENT November 26, 2021 ‘India Sweets And Spices’: Drama Finds The Nuanced Flavor Of Class Dynamics, Family Pressure W ith representation comes pressure. When- ever a sometimes-marginalized community gets the chance to tell its story on screen, expectations can be high. “India Sweets and Spices,” which looks at an Indian American family, takes that expectation and turns it on its head, giving us a more nuanced, complicated, and problematic look at the people it’s about. Written and directed by Geeta Malik, the film first in- troduces us to Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali of “Grey’s Anat- omy”), the daughter of Indian immigrants Sheila and Ranjit (Manisha Koirala and Adil Hussain, both well- established names in Indian cinema). Alia’s relationship with her parents is strained because she fits into just enough of their boxes to be successful, while miss- ing just enough to be frustrating. For example: She’s an honors student at UCLA, but she drinks, doesn’t maintain her eyebrows and is outspoken about the sex- ism and classism she sees among her parents’ wealthy friends. When she returns home to suburban New Jersey for summer vacation, she’s subject to Jane Austen-esque parties, all of which blend together. The same people gossip about the same things – mostly who’s married whom, and when – while subtly trying to outshine one another with their own polished perfection. Once, while on a trip to the local Indian market, Alia spots an attractive young man, Varun Dutta (Rish Shah), and, to get to know him better, invites him and his parents – who own the market – to a family party. It’s a minor scandal because the working class Duttas don’t fit in with the Kapurs and their wealthy circle. It becomes even more scandalous when Varun’s mother (Deepti Gupta) turns out to know Alia’s mom from India, and harbors more than a few secrets about her. It would have been easy for the filmmaker to make Alia the woke, Americanized hero of this story, but Malik wisely avoids that trap, at first subtly, and then more overtly. Alia eventually learns that the appearance of her parents’ lives is more nuanced than she thought. But Malik also reveals that Alia is completely unaware of her own privilege and how it affects others. When she invites the Duttas, it never occurs to her that the invitation might make them uncomfortable, as well. (They feel obligated to accept, and then feel out of place when they arrive.) As much as Alia chafes against the rules of her world, she also knows how to navigate them, and she’s thrown off balance when others don’t. Unfortunately, such sharp subtlety doesn’t carry through the entire movie. While the major characters are written and performed with beauty and complex- ity – particularly by Koirala as Alia’s mother – the minor characters are more broadly drawn. Revelations about them, for instance, don’t feel particularly, er, revelatory. Most of the twists and turns are relatively predictable, delivering a light buzz rather than an intense shock. It’s not my place, as an outsider, to comment on the authenticity of “India Sweets and Spices.” But Malik has created a world that feels very real, ably communicat- ing its occasionally frustrating and deceptively complex contours. There are some good laughs to be had, some good lessons to be learned and room to discuss the importance of being allowed to be imperfect. Rating: Two and a half stars. PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some strong lan- guage, sexual material and brief drug references. 101 minutes. Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time. - TheWashington Post By Kristen Page-Kirby SK Global Entertainmentphoto byEliza Morse Sophia Ali, center, in “India Sweets and Spices. Indian Comedian Causes Stir With Kennedy Center Monologue -NEW DELHI T he comedian fromMumbai stood onstage Friday night at the Ken- nedy Center with a camouflage- print shirt on his back and fire in his belly. Before closing his sold-out show, Vir Das told hisWashington audience he needed to talk about his homeland. He didn’t come from one India, Das said, but two Indias, seemingly at odds. Today’s India is a country that is proudly vegetarian yet oppresses protest- ing farmers, Das said. It’s a country that worships women but grapples with hor- rific rape cases. It’s a country brimming with a huge, young population but is led by septuagenarian leaders with outdated ideas. Now, two Indias are responding to Das’s soliloquy on the Potomac: one with rapturous applause, another with sputter- ing rage. After Das uploaded his six-minute speech to YouTube this week, it has gone viral on social media in the country and become debate fodder on prime-time television. Liberal politicians, performers and writers emerged to cheer Das’s jabs at India’s authoritarian turn and swell- ing nationalism. On the other side, critics lashed into Das for broadly painting India as, among other things, a country plagued by rape. Das, a high-profile, 42-year-old come- dian who has released several specials on Netflix, was savaged on social media and quickly issued a clarification. OnWednes- day, angry citizens filed two cases against him with the police in Mumbai, where he is based, and in New Delhi. “I don’t mind if he makes mockery of Indian politicians, but he made a mockery of India, which is my country, my pride. He hurt the sentiments of India,” said Ashutosh Dubey, a lawyer for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who filed a defamation case in Mumbai in a personal capacity. “If an Indian goes outside the country, I want him to show the positive side,” Dubey said. “He must apologize to India.” As the controversy mounted this week, Das’s “two Indias” line became a meme embraced by many of the BJP’s opponents to vent about the ruling party’s shortcom- ings. But the sides of the debate weren’t neatly split along political lines. Abhishek Singhvi, a member of the upper house of Parliament and a former spokesman for the left-leaning Congress Party, weighed in to compare Das to people who portrayed colonial-era India to an international au- dience as a country full of snake charmers and bandits. “Vilifying the nation as a whole in front of the world is just not done!” Singhvi thundered on Twitter. Uproar over India’s portrayal abroad is nothing new in a vast and proud country that has long been keenly aware of its international image. But the unexpectedly heated reaction this week to Das’s mono- logue dismayed performers, who said it pointed to more than prickly nationalism. They said it showed that the space for political speech is shrinking in the world’s most populous democracy. “The problem is when you start using the force of law as a sledgehammer,” said Akash Banerjee, a political satirist and founder of the popular Deshbhakt, or Patriot, YouTube channel. “The lines of freedom of expression are constantly be- ing shifted. You can’t talk about this; you can’t mock that.” Earlier this year, Munawar Faruqui, a Muslim stand-up comic, was jailed for more than a month over a joke about Hindu gods that he had practiced in re- hearsal but did not tell onstage. Recently, several of Faruqui shows were canceled in Mumbai after Hindu right-wing groups threatened the organizers. Das’s video erupted into a source of controversy this week shortly after the U.S. State Department changed its travel advisory for India and cautioned travel- ers on its website that “Indian authorities report rape is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country.” Americans were also warned to avoid the India-Pakistan border. Banerjee, the satirist, said outrage sur- rounding Das was not necessarily about “what he said, but where he said it.” “He has gone and spilled the beans at Kennedy Center,” Banerjee said. This week, Das, who is in NewYork on his “Manic Man” tour, released a clarifica- tion saying his performance was satire. “Any nation has light and dark, good and evil within it,” he said. “None of this is secret.” He pointed out that he ended his show inWashington by appealing to the crowd to cheer for his country. In the Friday monologue leading up to the finale, Das largely avoided direct attacks on India’s political leaders even though he dinged them for not wearing masks in public. Speaking in the cadence of a slam poet, he remarked that India’s Hindus and Muslims and other religious minorities seemed only to be united in their struggles with high gasoline prices. “I leave you tonight, and I go back to India,” he said. “Which India will I go back to? Both of them. Which India am I proud of? One of them.” Finally, he asked members of the audience to cheer for the India that they believed in, and “make some noise for the India you want to live in.” Then he put the mic down and walked offstage to a standing ovation. -TheWashington Post By Gerry Shih,Niha Masih Photo:Twitter @thevirdas Comedian Vir Das