Walkaway — an independent American film (primarily in English, but with some Tamil and French dialogue) — is an enjoyable exploration of marriage through the relationships of four Indian-American men. Apparently, the meddling mother-in-law stereotype is an international one.
While Walkaway is marketed as a “South-Asian male version of Sex and the City,” the friendship between the four male leads only holds the plot together; the movie is really about the men’s romantic relationships. The female characters get as much screentime as the men and get most of the best dialogue. The four relationships are between:
- Soham & Nidhi — a couple struggling to connect, two years into their arranged marriage
- Shridhar & Genevieve — an engaged couple trying to integrate Genevieve’s French family into Shridhar’s Tamil Brahmin family
- Vinay & Sia — a newly-dating pair set up by their parents in India
- Darius & Anu — roommates of Vinay & Sia having a casual fling
The story’s timeline follows Vinay & Sia’s relationship, from both of them debating whether to go through with their arranged blind date, through budding romance, to their eventual engagement. The wedding preparations cause headaches that are old news to Soham & Nidhi and Shridhar & Genevieve.
Soham & Nidhi are more like roommates, due to an awkward start to their marriage. Soham’s mother doesn’t hide her disdain for Nidhi, and Soham doesn’t defend his wife against his mother’s abuse. Nidhi summarizes her unhappy life in one line: “There’s a reason why fairy tales always end with the wedding.”
As Shridhar & Genevieve’s wedding date approaches, Shridhar’s mother’s gets more demanding. Having already agreed to a mostly traditional Tamil Brahmin wedding involving certain ceremonies her family isn’t thrilled about, Genevieve puts her foot down when Shridhar’s mother insists on a particular ritual that Genevieve finds demeaning.
I’m not clear on all the details of the ritual (one of Walkaway‘s faults is that it doesn’t explain certain cultural traditions clearly enough for those outside the tradition), but it’s supposed to save Shridhar from the bad luck evidently present in Genevieve’s horoscope. Genevieve shrewdly observes that the ritual itself isn’t the problem, it’s the superstition behind it. Even if she participates in the ritual, she’s been identified as cursed, and any future problems for the couple will be her fault, at least in the eyes of Shridhar’s mother (and possibly in Shridhar’s eyes, too).
The trouble in all of the relationships — apart from that of Darius & Anu, who aren’t serious about one another and, consequently, seem the happiest — is that the men won’t stand up to their overbearing mothers. It’s a challenge that should be made easier by the fact that the mothers live on a different continent.
Though the movie highlights the particular elements of Indian marriage traditions that clash with the American lifestyles of the characters, the generational differences that spur the conflict are universal. While watching the movie, I was reminded of how nervous I was to tell my parents that I wanted a tiny wedding with fewer than 20 guests, rather than the typical catered dinner with hundreds of attendees (turned out my folks were fine with it). The struggles of the characters will resonate with anyone who’s ever been in a serious romantic relationship.
That said, Walkaway is less accessible than it could be. English subtitles consistently accompany Genevieve’s French-accented English, yet they sometimes disappear when non-English dialogue is spoken. There are mentions of cultural traditions, like Genevieve’s wedding ritual, that needed more explanation. A couple of lines of dialogue could sufficiently explain things to a general audience, without ruining the flow of the movie.
Still, the problems didn’t hamper my overall comprehension of the movie’s universal themes. Walkaway is a promising first effort by filmmaker Shailja Gupta.