Written by: Robin C. Farrell | November 19th, 2021
India Sweet and Spices (Geeta Malik, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
India Sweet and Spices has a lot to say. There are significant statements about culture, class, generational divides, and economic disparity, but writer/director Geeta Malik (Troublemaker) has a deft hold of her film and conveys these messages in a delightful story that largely avoids clichés, staying grounded, throughout. The film has a self-awareness and compelling rhythm that draws you in and makes you want to stay.
It begins with Alia (Sophia Ali, Truth or Dare), a young activist and college student, reluctantly leaving school for summer break at her family’s wealthy home. There, surrounded by community and tradition, all of which Alia finds tedious and outdated, she grins and bears it while whispering critique from the corner with friend Rahul (Ved Sapru) and drinking a smuggled-in beer. Meanwhile, sparks fly between Alia and Varun (Rish Shah, To All the Boys: Always and Forever) when she runs an errand to the local Indian store. Alia impulsively invites Varun and his family to a party at her family’s house, where it’s revealed that their mothers know each other.
At which point, the story pivots (or begins to) from being strictly Alia’s story to that of her mother, Sheila (Manisha Koirala, Maska). It’s obvious to us and the characters that she’s hiding something and, ultimately, that’s the film’s point: appearances can be deceiving and the façades we construct very rarely present the whole truth of who we are. This is far from a groundbreaking message but the film goes on to question what happens when we acknowledge this truth. Do we continue to hide behind these façades anyway or embrace our full identities, reputations be damned? What will really bring the most happiness? Not just for us, but for those around us, as well?
The cast is tremendous and contributes in large part to the natural flow to so many of the scenes. There’s chemistry and believable history between the characters. India Sweet and Spices is beautiful, featuring alluring shots and gorgeous costumes. And while all of this is presented in earnest, with vital messages at its core, India Sweets and Spices never forgets that it’s a movie; it stays engaging and rewarding. The film does an especially great job showing how individual choices affect those around us. Marketed mostly as a rom-com, and not without romance or comedy, this is really a coming-of-age story for Alia and Sheila, and even Alia’s father and Sheila’s husband, Ranjit (Adil Hussain, Pareeksha). There are no easy answers here and though the film winds up relatively happily, it doesn’t erase all of what’s come before. The characters at the center of the story have a strong sense of what matters most and, ultimately, so do we.