‘India Sweets and Spices’: Gossip, Secrets and Biting Laughs

By Lisa Kennedy

In Geeta Malik’s comedy-drama “India Sweets and Spices” the aunties maim. At least emotionally. The wives and mothers who live in an upscale New Jersey enclave of Indian Americans like their gossip spicy and don’t seem to care who feels the burn. (The scotch-drinking, suit-clad uncles aren’t laggards in that department either.)

When Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali) arrives home from the University of California, Los Angeles, for the summer, she sets in motion a maelstrom of chatter. Her plans to chill are derailed by her parents, who draft her into attending the Saturday parties that move from well-appointed home to well-appointed home, starting with theirs. On a whim, she invites Varun Dutta (Rish Shah) and his hard-working parents (the new owners of the titular grocery store) to the gathering. A summer of revelations ensues — the most startling of which concern Alia’s dad and mom, Ranjit (Adil Hussain) and Sheila (Manisha Koirala).

Caste snobbery has followed these families from India to the United States. While Alia and her friends roll their eyes at each other about their parents’ obsessions with status, they also enjoy the swimming pools, BMWs and California universities that those priorities make possible.

“India Sweets and Spices” is a gentle but firm take on the costs of keeping up with the Joneses, or the Devis in this case. Without sacrificing comedic buoyancy, Malik and her ensemble make palpable a community that is vibrant and claustrophobic. Koirala, a Bollywood star, brings a taut poise to a mother whose veneer seems adamantine until the Duttas walk in the door. Deepti Gupta delivers a soulful performance as the sage shopkeeper who knew Sheila a lifetime ago. — New York Times