Writer and director Geeta Malik began work on Indian Sweets & Spices a decade ago and saw the script evolve, shaped by time and the birth of two children from a classic coming of age story to a moving exploration of a mother-daughter relationship with a feminist slant and a surprising reveal. Much of the action unfolds at a series of elaborate weekly dinner parties she presents with love and exasperation.
“I did grow up going to these Indian dinner parties, being dragged to them,” she told Deadline’s Tribeca Studio. The same goes for the movie’s rebellious central character, Alia, played by Sophia Ali, who just finished freshman year at UCLA and is back home in her wealthy New Jersey suburb over summer break. The saris are gorgeous, gossip reigns, barbs fly, biscuits and samosas are passed. Not much has changed, she thinks. But it turns out there’s much she doesn’t know.
The idea was “trying to figure out who these adults were,” said Malik. “The mother-daughter aspect really came into play when I had my own kids.”
When Alia meets Varun, played by Rish Shah, the son of local shopkeepers who don’t travel in the same social circles, she finds a love interest, a guide and help uncovering a dramatic secret.
Varun’s family feels the sting from other guests when Alia invites them to a dinner party at her home. “It’s a universal experience,” Shah told Deadline, but also one that spoke to his own, and his “parents in the U.K. who had to fight to get to where they are,” he said. “They are all things I’ve grown up seeing around me … so the script felt very true.”
“It’s very refreshing to see a female project that is female led, with very fierce and powerful women,” he added.
Malik says she’s a staunch feminist very conscious “of the legacy of women who really sacrificed to get us to where we are.” That’s the core drama in the film. There’s also seriously good comedy. “A community where everyone feels like they’re in a petri dish, being constantly observed,” as Malik described it, is bound to explode — making for a truly memorable last party.
Indian Sweets & Spices debuts today at the Tribeca Festival at 5PM ET. Watch the full interview above.
The Deadline Studio is presented by Verimatrix.