India Sweets and Spices, written and directed by Geeta Malik, will draw plenty of comparisons to Crazy Rich Asians, especially since the film is from the same producers. While both reside in a rich world, the points of view and the plot are different. India Sweets and Spices uses a rich protagonist to tell a story that deals with the fire of youth and the weariness of age. This is also not the story of the white kid rebelling against their child. India Sweets and Spices is funny, chock-full of messy drama but has an underlying heart about topical issues.
The film has Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali) as the protagonist rather than her soon-to-be, working-class love interest, Varun (Rish Shah). Alia returns home from college for summer vacation and discovers secrets in her family she never knew. As a protagonist, it’s challenging to connect with Alia at first. The reason is that there are plenty of films with bratty young wealthy kids who feel antagonistic toward their conservative parents. It is often a phase before they settle down in their traditional lives when they are older, and they’ll regale their friends with tales of their youthful, rebellious stage. So I was side-eyeing Alia.
A Common Tale From A Unique Perspective
The tale is not unique, but seeing a story from outside the typical white family makes this story better. At the beginning of India Sweets and Spices, Alia is close with her father, Ranjit Kapur (Adil Hussain) and antagonistic toward her mother, Sheila Kapur (Manisha Koirala). Alia views her mother as snobbish, obsessed with appearances and status instead of character, and her father seems more laidback and usually has to play peacekeeper between the two. But with each discovery, Alia realizes that not only does she not know them, but her assumptions about them and their marriage were incorrect.
When Alia meets Varun, whose family now runs the grocery stores, she invites the lot of them to her parents’ party. Given the amount of wealth on display, her mom’s displeasure that Alia invited lowly grocery store owners, Alia should have warned Varun’s family about what they walked into instead of telling them it would be fine. At the party, it becomes apparent that Alia’s mom, Sheila, and Varun’s mother, Bhairavi Dutta (Deepti Gupta), knew each other despite Sheila’s chilly reception to Bhairavi, which causes Alia to dig for information.
Acting Top-Notch, Comedy On Beat
The acting, especially from the secondary characters, stands out in India Sweets and Spices. Manisha Koirala brings regal strength with a quiet depth to Sheila, and even when you disagree with her behavior, you still want to learn more about her. Deepti Gupta also masterfully conveys the joy of meeting old friends and the pain when they appear to be nothing like they once were. There is a terror here that is not the monster in the closet but time and weariness. Many generations rebel against the system when they are young, only to succumb to it with age because it is expedient. There is nothing scarier.
There are a lot of laughs, quips, and jokes amidst the drama. I loved the humor, the gossipy, judgemental aunties, and how there is still community even when younger generations laugh at the older generations. My favorite scene reminded me of Something To Talk About, but this went further and is more raucous. Social etiquette and niceties instill a superficiality that does more harm than good. The mask of niceness creates a barrier from connecting to people around us on a human level. When the mask slips or gets cast off, we get something messy, sometimes hurtful, but always real; the place where human interaction must start.
A Beautiful Escape
If India Sweets and Spices released a few years ago, the reception would be different. However, we are currently still in a pandemic; countless people are out of jobs, out of unemployment, and facing financial hardships so I’m unsure of its welcome. Seeing a film that talks about the struggles of the wealthy may not be of interest, but India Sweets and Spices is more than that. It’s funny and dramatic with nary a white person in sight, and I loved it.
India Sweets and Spices lives up to its title with syrupy moments of love and saucy, youthful angst. I love intergenerational dramedies, especially when they have stories through a cultural lens I rarely get to see, and I was cheering by the end of this film. I recommend this, especially if you need a laugh or reignite that fire to combat oppressive systems. As long as we are breathing, it ain’t over.