India Sweets and Spices is just as charming as you’d expect from a title brimming with personality and cultural character drama. Sophia Ali plays Alia, an ambitious young Indian woman home for a theoretical relaxing summer break from UCLA. When she heads to her local shop to pick up biscuits for her mother’s party, there is an instant spark between Alia and the son of the shopkeeper, Varun (Rish Shah). You know it’s love at first sight, as the film lingers on Alia’s hair, blowing like there’s heavy wind, and celebratory Indian music booms in the background. This detail alone will clue you on on the meta rom-com course charted by India Sweets and Spices. Throw in the mysterious and alluring backstory about Alia’s stuffy mother Sheila (Manisha Koirala) and her shocking activist past, as well as the introduction of a love triangle with Alia’s old fling Rahul (Ved Sapru), and you have one vibrantly enticing dramedy.
The hilarious cultural observations that feel specific are clearly peppered with the personal touches of writer/director Geeta Malik. Alia comments on how at least their generation “provides equal opportunity for men and women to get shit-faced.” Themes of arranged marriage, infidelity and social status cast a cloud of realism. Varun and his family, invited to one of the various extravagant parties thrown by Alia’s wealthy family, are essentially shunned and subjugated because of their status. However, something weird at the party changes the remainder of the movie for good—Sheila is hiding an activist past. Learning more about this backstory and Alia’s battle to connect with her mother becomes the captivating lifeblood of India Sweets and Spices.
The romance is thankfully as engaging as the familial bonds. Alia has chemistry with both Varun and Rahul, and I rooted for her to end up with either of them at different points. During their initial meeting, Rahul looks down on Varun, assuming he is a cater waiter and not an actual party guest. When Varun becomes jealous of what Rahul can give Alia that he himself cannot, I still yearned for the two to work through their differences and end up together. Despite different economic situations, you can’t help who you fall in love with.
India Sweets and Spices is perhaps Bollywood’s answer to Crazy Rich Asians: it’s a romantic comedy that thrives through its strict adherence to rattling cultural norms and forging a less arranged, equal-opportunity future. It also made me hungry, reveling in delicacies at the numerous parties. I can picture audiences really connecting with this bubbly dysfunctional family. I know I adored the link between Alia and her mother Sheila. I appreciated Geeta Malik’s continued emphasis on the importance of family, underlined by a touching mother/daughter connection.
India Sweets and Spices debuted June 12th at the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th – June 20th.