I want to say that I decided to review India Sweets and Spices for some significant reason. I want to say that the movie had an interesting premise and a strong cast, which motivated me to look into it. I want to say that the director was someone who I was already a fan of, so I wanted to see their latest work. But no, the reason why I decided to review India Sweets and Spices was for one odd, little fact about the movie that nobody else would even care about. I watched it because it was set in New Jersey, or at least allegedly. As much as I tried to research I couldn’t find the town the movie takes place in, and that’s saying something from an NJ native.
That might make me an easy mark, as long as your movie is set in New Jersey I’ll watch it, but outside of such a stupid reason to see a movie, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film when I eventually wrapped it up. It really doesn’t do anything outrageously well but all of its components are well put together. Plus as the movie went on, I found myself becoming more and more engaged with the plot and the characters. Fancy that!
India Sweets and Spices
Director: Geeta Malik
Release Date: June 12, 2021 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Taking place in a posh suburban town in NJ, the movie revolves around Alia (Sophia Ali) returning home from college for her summer break. Alia is the definition of your young, progressive college girl who doesn’t want to take part in her family’s stuck-up and restrictive traditions. All that her parents do is party on a weekly basis, play golf, gossip about local drama, and trying to maintain a good image to the rest of the large and wealthy Indian community in town. Alia starts to fall in love though with the young son of an Indian family who runs the grocery store, Varun (Rish Shah), and discover that the two of them have a surprising and unlikely connection due to their mothers, who in turn have a weird and complicated relationship with each other. Secrets abound and there’s lots of spicy drama to behold.
The movie jumps around between the Romeo & Juliet-esque romance between Alia and Varun and also the secret history behind their mothers. Both plotlines never really dominate one another yet both feed into the central themes of the film. Tradition plays a very large part in the film, whether it be from the fancy clothing of the weekly parties, to several people constantly asking Alia if she and her childhood friend are going to get married, to the gossip around her dating a mere convenience store employee. You can feel the needles being poked at Alia as all of these comments are made about her and her family, yet Alia inadvertently plays into the expectations the community has of her.
There are some standard metaphors here that you’ve seen before, like Alia going through a physical transformation as a sign of rebelling and her interactions with Varun despite him being lower-class. As India Sweets and Spices progresses she becomes more confident in not upholding the traditions of the community, like when she casually confronts two pompous brats and they just agree to not be polite anymore and rip into each other. The barriers of class and societal expectations begin to waver as the movie progresses, especially when the spotlight shines onto Alia’s mom Sheila (Manisha Koirala).
Sheila is the polar opposite of Ali as someone who eventually gave in to the tradition and expectations of the people around her. She’s become something that her daughter can’t stand and, at a time, a younger version of herself probably also can’t stand. Alia may be where the heart of the movie is, as well as the bulk of the comedy, but it’s with Sheila that the soul resides. That persona she so carefully cultivated chips away slowly but surely as more and more secrets about her past come to light, resulting in a climax where all of the tea is sipped. Or rather, the tea is chugged as everything gets burned down in a blaze of glory. It’s kind of magical in a way.
Most of the visuals in the movie pop and make this movie very pleasant to look at. Like graphics introducing the parties before they happen, showing in an exaggerated spectacle the grace and self-importance of these middle-aged socialites trying to engineer some meaning into their lives. Costuming is also equally exciting, mostly because of just how the parties serve as an excuse for the characters to dress to the nines. Gorgeous fabric flows, immaculately prepared foods will make you salivate, and the atmosphere almost feels like something from The Great Gatsby, hollowness included!
But like I said earlier, India Sweets and Spices isn’t something that’s fresh and new. It’s a spin on tropes and ideas we’ve seen a million times, but just because it packages together some familiar ideas of romance, classism, and tradition doesn’t mean it’s handled poorly. It’s really competently done and results in a movie that may have been forgettable, but it’s elevated to the next level thanks to its lead actresses. It’s simple and light, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need in our diet.