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The Many Flavors of Indian-American Life

August 2004
The Many Flavors of Indian-American Life

By Ashima Sood

What would you call a movie about Indians in America that lacks big-name Bollywood stars, big-budget dance-and-song routines and heavy-duty immigrant angst but manages nonetheless to be solid, heartwarming entertainment? No, it is not a pig that flies. It is called Flavors, the movie.

The least flavorful thing about this film may well be its unimaginative title. The eponymous caf� bar to which it refers is the scene of many a pivotal conversation in Flavors' smartly etched cinematic cosmos; but like the unnamed East Coast city to which it belongs, the details of the place itself remain generic.

Which might be all for the best. For the characters in Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK's first full-length feature, from the clueless bench guys Vivek, Ashok and Jas to the ?married but single' housewife Sangita, to the newly arrived ?mom and dad' Gopalakrishnas, the details hardly matter. The jumble of letters and numbers that is their passport to the New World ? B1/B2, F1, H1, H1B, H2 ? determines the America they encounter; whether it is the yawning 3000-mile American expanse that separates the ?friends or something like it' Kartik and Rachna, or the four walls that define the existence of work widow Sangita.

The insight that sets apart Nidimoru and Krishna DK's unusually accomplished film from the recent rash of indie movies targeted to us is precisely this healthy respect for the varieties of the Indian-American dream. And how it can sour or sweeten over the course of periods as short as a week and with something as mundane as the troughs and crests in H1B employment graphs ? evidenced by the hapless Vivek's heartfelt if hilariously contradictory speeches.

If there is one thematic subtext, however, to Flavors' many strands, it has to be love, actually. The young characters may not know it but they are all united in their sometimes quixotic quests for romantic love and marital bliss. Rachna prides herself on her maturity and judgment only to fall for a devious courtship. Vivek calls India nightly to hear his beloved's voice only to be berated by her furious father. Sangita tries to set up date after date with her newly-wed hubby only to have it canceled by his late hours.

Bemused but still beaming over the romantic shenanigans of the youngsters are the Gopalakrishnas who are visiting from India for their son's wedding to an American. Another movie might have played them for laughs but the Gopalakrishnas as enacted here with customary �lan by the Wagles (Anjan Srivastava and Bharti Achrekar of the highly popular Indian TV serial Wagle Ki Duniya). Here, they are more than out of date oldies. Instead, the easy camaraderie and resilience of their marriage sets the standard for the bumbling relationships attempted by the youngsters in the film.

"Life like it is. Almost" is the tagline of Flavors, and for once the boast is not wasted. Of the many pleasures the movie affords, not least is the epiphany of recognition. These are people we have met and known; at the numerous desi get-togethers, at the local dosa house, or amongst our friends and our large extended families. Why, warts and all, they might even be us! As ensemble comedy, Flavors manages a virtuoso act, juggling diverse characters with nary a dropped ball. Till the ah-ha moments at the wedding finale that connect the dots. In the small somewhat inbred world of desis in America these fortuitous links ring all too true.

Incessantly, sometimes incisively funny, this is a film with a lot of affection for its characters and sympathy for the predicaments they find themselves in. It certainly deserves a watch and more. So go see it for the duration it runs in your local theater and after that buy the DVD to savor at leisure the bittersweet flavors of Flavors the movie.

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