Tag Archives: Poorna Jagannathan

Movie Review: Growing Up Smith (2015)

growingupsmith3 Stars (out of 4)

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Growing Up Smith is a funny, relatable coming-of-age story about an Indian boy’s attempt to adapt to American small-town life.

Smith Bhatnagar (Roni Akurati) is ten years old, living somewhere in Oklahoma with his family in 1979. Smith’s father, Bhaaskhar (Anjul Nigam, who co-wrote the screenplay), longed so much to come to the United States that he chose the most American name he could think of for his only son. Unfortunately, Bhaaskhar didn’t realize that “Smith” is a last name, not a first name.

The members of the family — father, son, mother Nalini (Delhi Belly‘s Poorna Jagannathan), and teenage sister Asha (Shoba Narayan) — enjoy life in their new country. Bhaaskhar loves his money-saving vegetable garden, and Asha likes the handsome boys, especially her classmate, Patrick (Paul Castro, Jr.).

Of all the things Smith likes about America — Star Wars, disco, John Travolta — his favorite is his pretty next-door-neighbor, Amy (Brighton Sharbino). Amy happens to be one of the few townsfolk interested in the Bhatnagar’s Indian heritage. She doesn’t flinch when the family offers her a vegetarian meal (flinching being the standard Midwestern response to vegetarianism until approximately 2008, as I can attest).

Amy’s friendship helps Smith navigate the usual pitfalls of adolescence like bullies, but also culture-specific problems, such as his parents’ inability to appreciate the importance of Halloween for kids in the States. Amy’s working-class dad, Butch (Jason Lee), takes it upon himself to teach Smith how to be an American man.

Growing Up Smith is humorous yet tender in the way it deals with Smith’s problems. A clever and occasionally bombastic score by Michael Lira guides the tone of the film, hearkening back to earlier Hollywood coming-of-age comedies like A Christmas Story.

The story poses interesting questions about raising children in a foreign country. Bhaaskhar regularly threatens to send his kids back to India when they act up, but how much of their misbehavior is due to their increasing Americanization, and how much is typical kid stuff they’d do no matter where they lived? Asha is skilled at getting away with mischief, simply shouting “Bye” on her way out the door to trick her folks into believing they already gave her permission to leave.

The time period in which the story is set also plays an important part. This is well before the age of cell phones and GPS, a time when parents had to hop in the car to track down their missing offspring. Not only are the Bhatnagars the only Indian family around, they aren’t even in regular contact with their own relatives. Smith describes a phone call to India as “an expensive and rare event.” Do Bhaaskhar and Nalini feel compelled to enforce a stricter set of culturally appropriate rules than if they had other Indian parents around to talk to? Smith and Asha are also deprived of peers who really understand their issues, such as their prearranged marriages.

These issues are only an undercurrent to a story that focuses on the antics of its charming junior protagonist. Akurati makes Smith impossible to dislike, barrelling down the street on his bicycle, wearing a helmet several sizes too big. The rest of the family is endearing, too, as is Sharbino as Amy. Lee’s performance is the only one that sometimes feels out of sync with the rest of the cast.

Just like its main character, Growing Up Smith is hard not to like. Here’s where to meet Roni Akurati and Anjul Nigam at one of the special screenings they are hosting around the country:

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Movie Review: Delhi Belly (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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It seems as though the hallmark of American comedies for adults in recent years has been to include as many graphic bodily function gags as possible. It’s why I don’t generally see comedies in the theater: I’m likely to walk out when things get too disgusting.

Delhi Belly, India’s first mainstream foray into Western-style gross-out comedy, comes as a relief because the filmmakers realize that a little goes a long way. By emphasizing quality over volume when it comes to scatological humor, Delhi Belly showcases the genre at its best.

Freelance reporter Tashi (Imran Khan) lives in a filthy apartment with his two pals, photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and cartoonist Arup (Vir Das). Tashi’s gorgeous but ditzy girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala), takes a package from a suspicious Russian man in the airport where she works as a flight attendant. Without realizing that the package is full of contraband, Sonia asks Tashi to deliver the package for her so that she can run errands.

Tashi hands the package off to Nitin, who promptly contracts a case of “Delhi belly” (diarrhea) from some unsanitary street food. Nitin asks Arup to deliver the package on his way to the doctor, who’s requested a stool sample from the ailing Nitin. You can guess what happens when Arup makes his deliveries.

Delhi Belly is not a typical Indian film, and not just because of its genre. The dialog is primarily in English, and the plot structure is also more like a Hollywood film. Bucking the standard formula for a two-hour-plus masala picture — split the story into two halves, separated by an intermission — Delhi Belly‘s plot has three acts that run continuously for 100 minutes, sans intermission.

What results from these breaks with Indian cinematic tradition? A damned funny movie. The writing is hilarious, and the dialog generates as many laughs as the physical gags and fart jokes do. Fair warning: even by much looser American ratings standards, this would be an R-rated film. Copious use of the f-word, violence, reference to sex acts and scatological humor make this adults-only fare.

Director Abhinay Deo — who failed to impress with his debut earlier this year, Game — shows a real flair for comedy. The story is well-paced, and Deo uses the camera deftly to exaggerate the ridiculous situations Tashi and his pals find themselves in. The movie’s two musical numbers are hysterical and fit seamlessly into the production.

There’s also an emphasis placed on the relationships between the main characters. The friendship between Tashi, Nitin and Arup never wavers. When Tashi and Nitin meet a hip, cynical fellow journalist named Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), it’s clear that she fits in with the goofy trio much better than Sonia does. This is a group of misfits we want to see succeed, and great performances by the cast only enhance that desire.

If I had to sum Delhi Belly up in one word, it would be “satisfying.” It has everything I want in a comedy. As long as you can stomach the cuss-words and gross-out gags, this is about as good as it gets.

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