Most young unmarried Indians, nearing the age of 30, have heard that question. They hate it, they dread it, but they can’t escape it. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they do. Whether they’ve won the Nobel, cured world hunger, or started a cult – they can never outshine that question. I’ve been there myself – for years. It consists of six simple words, but it makes Exorcist look like a David Dhawan movie.
“Beta, when will you get married?”
Asha Maurya (Pallavi Sharda), the protagonist of a new Netflix film, Wedding Season, is a kindred spirit. She is 29, single, and not ready to mingle. But her mother, like most mothers, has a different plan. She creates a profile for Asha on dreamdesipartner.com, forcing her to meet one suitor after the other.
An economist leaving a Wall Street career, Asha has joined a small lending firm that intends to empower South Asian women entrepreneurs. But that question continues to hound her, making her so exasperated that she pretends to date a guy, Ravi (Suraj Sharma), from DreamDesiPartner.
He (more than) fits the bill: Gaining admission to Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of 16, and a National Spelling Bee champion, Ravi has scaled the ultimate diasporic peak.
Director Tom Dey and writer Shiwani Srivastava open the film on a funny quirky note. Asha is a typical twentysomething: confused, overwhelmed, lost. Her sister, Priya (Arianna Afsar), is about to get married to an American man, Nick (Sean Kleier), who tries hard – way too hard – to fit into the family. The dialogues are playful (“keep calm and curry on”) yet piercing (“beta, we just want the best for you”), showing how diasporic parents manipulate their children. It also shows how other Indians, whether acquaintances or relatives, practice ‘casual cruelty’ by deriding Asha about her marital status. Her mother, Suneeta (Veena Sood), fixated on her daughter’s marriage, may look like a ‘type’, but the measured writing – hinting at her backstory – eventually makes her complex.
Asha, too, is etched in fine strokes. Debunking the popular misconception, she’s great with numbers and a workaholic. Most importantly, her ambition isn’t lip service. The film earnestly follows the trajectory of her career – via a subplot centred on Asha pitching the Singaporean investors – making it a crucial link in the climax. The story has a broad inclusive vibe to it – we see a Hindu-Jew wedding, a Hindu-Muslim wedding, a pleasant cross-cultural intersection – without making a big deal about its ‘progressive’ credentials.
The diasporic dramedy is a sub-genre of its own which, besides a few notable exceptions, mostly tackles stale ideas, revolving around identity crises, cultural crossroads, and, of course, marital exasperations. Wedding Season, too, doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it has enough sincerity (and humour) to keep you invested.
And the chemistry. With a relaxed screen presence and impressive comic timing, Sharma and Sharda make even the mundane and predictable bits work. That’s the thing about a film like this – it can have all the great writing, direction, and performances, but if the leads don’t sizzle, the whole thing fizzles, out. The pair looks even more striking because good romance has largely vanished from our screens, and even when it appears, it mostly features the constellation of same stars, eliciting a jaded feel.
But Sharma and Sharda look so alive in each other’s company – the way they talk, the way they move, so hungry for exploring each other – that you crave the butterflies in the stomach. Many times chemistry can be ineffable, prompting a comment not too different from an onlooker in When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Even though the stakes are relatively low for an hour in the 97-minute piece, the movie barely feels random or restless. It’s a remarkable feat, given Wedding Season isn’t particularly ‘profound’ or densely plotted. It’s even largely predictable – we know that Asha and Ravi will fall for each other, encounter a roadblock, resolve it – but the writing flows at almost all times, keeping you intrigued one scene after the other. Primarily centred on Asha, it takes a crucial detour to reveal Ravi’s secret – on how he brought ‘shame’ to his parents – depicting how diasporic folks, despite all the exposure, can be more regressive than people back home.
Living in it was such a pleasant experience that I was willing to look beyond its sporadic flaws.
Its inciting incident in fact – Asha wanting to ‘fake date’ Ravi to snub condescending aunties at weddings – looks like the kind of plot point desired more by the screenwriter than the characters. (If Asha isn’t a pushover – she holds her own against her intrusive parents – then why does she not simply refuse to attend the weddings, or make a series of job-related excuses?)
Or a small scene towards the end trying hard to escalate tension, featuring Ravi’s parents and an aunty at Priya’s wedding.
But these bits don’t dilute the film. Because it finds a nice way to bridge its comedic and dramatic bits – via just one line (“let your love be greater than your fear”), first said by Ravi, then Asha – making Wedding Season a satisfying whole. It even touches upon that taboo topic – of caste – that many diasporic movies pretend doesn’t exist.
It also continues to whittle down the entitled Indian parents right till the end but, at its core, it’s not bitter.
A simple romcom about two wandering souls, Wedding Season dignifies the restless thrums of young hearts.
Featured image: Netflix
This review was first published on The Wire.