A chance meeting with a hot guy in a grocery store leads to shocking family revelations in the delightful American comedy India Sweets and Spices.
Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali) returns home from college for another boring summer at home. Life with her family in their wealthy New Jersey suburb is the same as ever: her younger brother and sister constantly fight, mom Sheila (Manisha Koirala) is obsessed with keeping up appearances, and dad Ranjit (Adil Hussain) is always golfing. Their lives are structured around a rotation of weekly parties thrown by the local Desi elite in order to show off new designer sarees, brag about their children, and judge one another. The movie’s plot is structured around these events, too, with onscreen titles announcing which family party is about to spark the latest drama.
On a trip to the grocery store, Alia meets Varun Dutta (Rish Shah), the handsome son of the new owners of the shop, India Sweets and Spices. Breaking with protocol, Alia invites working class Varun and his family — including his mom Bhairavi (Deepti Gupta) and dad Kamlesh (Kamran Shaikh) — to her family’s house for the weekly party.
Having grown up insulated from from the realities of class distinctions, Alia is surprised when her parents and their friends won’t even feign kindness toward the Duttas — but bigger surprises await. Varun, Alia, and her friend Rahul (Ved Sapru) catch Alia’s dad making out with Rahul’s mom. And it turns out Bhairavi is an old college friend of Sheila’s, though Sheila tries to downplay the relationship. Alia’s only ever considered her parents as “her parents.” Who are they really?
Writer-director Geeta Malik is excellent at world building, populating the posh suburb of Ruby Hill with well-defined characters. Alia is a product of her environment, and her struggle as a young adult to figure out who she’s supposed to be plays out within that context. Should Alia have been shocked that the Duttas were ostracized by the wealthy doctors and engineers her parents hobnob with? Probably not, but hers is a world where scrutiny stops at surface level.
For example, Alia is impressed by the number of books Varun has in his room. When he points out that her house has a look of books, too, she says that they aren’t even real. They’re just a color coordinated set of Swedish novels with uncut pages meant to match the decor. Later, Alia points out the same set of Swedish books on the shelves in Rahul’s house, and Rahul is stunned to learn that they’re fake. He’d never even looked at them.
Even though Alia’s younger siblings don’t feature prominently in the story, they help establish a world that is bigger than just Alia, her parents, and the guy she likes. Same for childhood friends like Rahul and Neha (Anita Kalathara). The rapport between Neha and Alia is especially charming.
India Sweets and Spices is a great showcase for Ali, who has mostly worked in TV to this point (including multiple seasons of Grey’s Anatomy). She’s poised for a major profile boost when she plays the love interest to Tom Holland’s character in the long-awaited adventure movie Uncharted, which releases next year.
Hussain and Koirala are terrific as Alia’s parents, though that’s no surprise. Koirala puts a funny spin on an item number, as Sheila saunters into a room holding a plate of samosas, accompanied by the party anthem “Sheila Ki Jawani.” There are other amusing uses of popular Bollywood tunes and fun glimpses of movies as characters flip channels on the TV.
India Sweets and Spices is really well made. It’ll be fun to see what Geeta Malik does next.
- India Sweets and Spices at IMDb