As someone who grew up in his own Little India in Iselin, New Jersey, seeing writer and director Ravi Kapoor’s sophomore film “Four Samosas” was an absolute delight. Every frame took me back to memories of my childhood, from going to my favorite chaat house, to shopping for groceries as a family at our local Subzi Mandi.
Set in the primarily South Asian town of Artesia, Los Angeles, “Four Samosas” follows Venk Potula’s Vinny, a wannabe rapper who decides that the best way to get his ex-girlfriend back is by robbing her father’s grocery store. He’s surrounded by a band of very funny characters, portrayed by Sonal Shah, Sharmita Bhattachrya, and Nirvan Patnaik, who form the titular “four samosas.” The film is heavily reminiscent of Wes Anderson films in both its visual and comedic style, but is a mashup of different, well-balanced genres. It’s a heist film mixed with a love story blended with an homage to Little Indias across the world crossed with a story about someone just trying to get their mojo back — something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
What I found most refreshing about the story is that it also emphasizes South Asian normalcy. The characters don’t need to prove their South Asian-ness to others. No one needs to validate their existence. They just are. Potula, Shah, Bhattachrya, and Patnaik all bring distinctive performances to make their characters feel both heightened, yet fully formed. And Kapoor’s confident direction helps the both the main and tremendous supporting cast, including “Deadpool’s” Karan Soni, writer/director Sujata Day, Meera Simhan, and the established Tony Mirrcandani, pour their hearts out while just having fun.
This conversation with filmmaker Ravi Kapoor has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your biggest driving force behind making this movie?
It had been way too long since I’d made my last feature “Miss India America” and I was determined to express myself and my sensibility with another feature. I’d always wanted to do a “low-fi” quirky heist film with no guns, car chases or fancy gadgets, and also wanted to do something set in Artesia, LA’s ‘Little India’, so I figured I’d combine the two.
What was it like working with the local South Asian businesses in Artesia?
The businesses were amazingly generous with letting us film in their stores, as were the temples, Artesia City Council, and groups like GOPIO and the SoCal TiE network. I think everyone was keen to promote Artesia and just to help us tell a South Asian America story.
Can you talk about how you arrived at the film’s distinctive look and visual language?
I wanted to push the visuals as much as possible and do something that had a kind of 16mm retro feel to it; something that had a theatricality about it. In one of my short films, I’d experimented with the idea of using only one wide angle lens for everything so that, combined with doing the 4:3 aspect ratio, curving the corners, letting the bright sunlight play and never shooting over-the-shoulder shots, all helped create something really defined. Our DP Aakash Raj did a fantastic job bringing it all together.
You had a breadth of supporting characters with their own arcs, such as Pushpa and the dance troupe. Where did you draw the inspiration for each of these characters?
I feel like I’d met a variation of most of these characters at some point and we just heightened them all. And my father-in-law had been part of a Kannada drama troupe who actually played the troupe in the film; and then I was just inspired by the environment, like the abandoned railway tracks; I wondered what madness could happen there.
Was it challenging finding and casting the right actors for these characters?
Not at all. There’s so many talented South Asian actors out there including Venk Potula, who I’d written the lead role for, and then we only really auditioned for one part. Everything else was just direct offers to actors who we knew would be brilliant in these roles, including some excellent actors in my own house, like my wife Meera Simhan, who played Kamala, and daughter Maya Kapoor, who played Nikki.
You pack lots of references and nods to aspects of South Asian American life. Were there scenes you filmed that didn’t make the final cut?
The opening scene, where we see Vinny selling saris, was originally a longer monologue where he’s describing half a dozen different types of saris. It was really brilliantly played, but it ended up being much shorter after the edit because we needed to speed through the first act a bit quicker.
Have the South Asian businesses that you worked with seen the film? What were their reactions?
Not yet. I hope they like it!
Lastly, the inevitable question every filmmaker gets — what’s next for you?
I got some more South Asian diaspora stories I wanna tell. I ain’t done with those yet!
This conversation with actor and producer Venk Potula has also been edited for length and clarity.
Ravi Kapoor wrote and directed the film. How did you get involved?
Ravi is someone I’ve always looked up to. We got connected through an old agent and I would send him short films I made to get his feedback. Ravi and his wife were also in my scripted podcast, “Masala Jones.” Ravi sent me the “Four Samosas” script and asked for my thoughts. There was a character named Venk and I really resonated with the role. He ended up asking me to act and then co-produce the film. Being a producer allowed me to be involved in making the film every step of the way.
How did you relate to your character, Vinny?
After I read the script, I asked Ravi if he had taken some of the conversations we had and wrote about them. He said something interesting, that maybe he and I are more similar than we think. Vinny is a character who has lost his voice and is kind of stuck…I resonate with that feeling. Vinny is heartbroken and I think we all know what that is like.
Who is the ideal audience for this film?
I feel like it’s for anyone who enjoys a heist film and a rom-com. And of course it’s authentic with our South Asian culture integrated in the film. If you like quirky movies, if you like laughter, this movie is for you. I don’t think you have to be South Asian to enjoy it.
Seeing South Asians actors onscreen in an American film is obviously groundbreaking. But as a dark-skinned South Asian, seeing you specifically [Potula is Telugu] with dark skin and non-Anglo features was special to me.
I’m glad you brought it up because it’s such an important topic we don’t talk about. Even within our South Asian community, we don’t see a lot of people with darker skin and the examples of beauty are usually a lighter skin counterpart…like in any Bollywood movie I saw growing up. I’m very happy [audiences will] see that.
How did having South Asians behind the scenes working affect your experience making the movie?
It’s very empowering. There was a comfort, a knowing. You can have conversations you wouldn’t normally have because there you know there is a shared background. As an actor, it is so much easier to be more vulnerable.
“Four Samosas” will be released in theaters in New York and LA on Friday, December 2nd.
Writer Sneha Goud is a second-generation Indian-American raised in the Midwest and working in New York City. She holds a masters in public administration from New York University and works in the public sector. Sneha is an activist focused on South Asian, political, and feminist issues.
Viren Shinde is a programmer by day, a photographer and writer by night, and a consumer of all things caffeine 24/7. He loves to tell stories and dislikes it heavily when people leave the volume knob on an odd number. Viren strives to create content that captures snippets of the brown identity and unpacks the personal biases of the South Asian diaspora. In his spare time, Viren loves to watch movies, play board games, and try and find the best happy hour deal for tacos on the block. You can follow his photography journey on his Instagram @virenshinde_
“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.
This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.
Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long
Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
(What should I do?)
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
(After so long)
I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long
Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
(The same heart)
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
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For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.
It is the strength of both British and South Asian cinema that every few years, and with increasing regularity, a film comes along that is able to successfully and thoughtfully bridge the highs and lows of both cultures. With the recognisable cross-cultural DNA of films like “Bend it Like Beckham”, “Bride and Prejudice”and others before it, Shekhar Kapur brings to the silver screen an honest and comedic representation of East meets West with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” — an exploration of love and marriage across international norms.
Written and produced by Jemima Khan, the film draws from elements of her own experience of marrying then-Pakistani cricket star and now ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and relocating to the country for 10 years.
“Particularly in the West, Pakistanis would quite often be seen as terrorists, fanatics and backwards,” says Khan, as she reminisces about her time spent in Pakistan over Zoom. “My experience of living in Pakistan was very colourful, vibrant, and fun. I always felt like the rom-com side of Pakistan was more surprising than anything else.”
A film not just about the heart, but with a lot of heart of its own, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” touches on South Asian families, culture, individuality, and marriages in the 21st century. Set in the UK and Pakistan, this is a feel-good and fun story about childhood best friends and neighbours, Zoe and Kazim, AKA Kaz. And as the narrative unfolds, new light is shone on their friendship and questions are asked about the cultural norms and practices we have grown to accept.
It isn’t your usual ‘boy-meets-girl’ tale. On the contrary, they’ve known each other forever; the fabric of their lives intertwined. Kaz is a British-Pakistani doctor of “marriageable” age, opting for an “assisted” marriage set in motion by his own desire rather than parental duress.
“I think we’ve replaced the term “arranged” with “assisted” because South Asian parents now trust their kids more to make the right decision for themselves,” said Shahzad Latif, sitting next to Lily James, who nods in agreement. “It’s still a process. Some parents may have more confidence in their kids than others, but we’re getting there.”
Zoe – played by Lily James – is a professional documentary maker living on an inexplicably fancy houseboat (bit of a stretch for somebody having difficulty funding projects, but, at this point, a crucial ingredient for London rom-coms). As a white British woman, her method of finding love isn’t one that involves parents or family.
“It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the script,” says a smiling James in response to whether any culture shocks were encountered during filming and table reads. “Pakistani culture is so rich and colourful, and it was important for me to showcase this side of the country. So no, no culture shocks per se, just more singing and dancing in comparison to British culture!”
Zoe’s camera is the vehicle through which the film examines Kaz’s “contractual love”, as she trawls dating apps while following her best friend down the assisted aisle.
Emma Thompson’s Cath plays the comedic matriarch to Zoe, eager to witness the conclusion of her daughter’s swiping days by being with someone suitable. She’s found a family in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha Khan – a more layered mum — one that is embracing both tradition and modernity. It would be fair to say that Azmi successfully sells cinema-goers on the difficulty of that struggle.
“Today’s society is slowly coming to terms with providing children the space they rightfully require and deserve to make decisions,” says Azmi, reflecting on how scripts and films have evolved over time. “Gone are the days when parents would blackmail their children into marrying the first person they come across. Just because they are their kids doesn’t mean they are actually children. They are adults with views and minds of their own.”
Kaz is then introduced to Maimoona (Sajal Aly); a shy introvert from Pakistan, unsure about the idea of moving permanently to London. She’s dealing with internal battles of her own; battles between personal desires and societal expectations.
“Maimoona may not have verbally said much, but her face said everything,” explains Aly, looking beautiful and radiant as ever. “She is torn between what she wants and what society silently shoves down at her and eventually, she goes with what the latter expects.”
The film navigates between London and a fabricated Lahore filmed in the suburbs of the British capital; a feat that comes as testament to the film’s production design. Kaz and Zoe’s jaunts across Lahore, backdropped by its magnificent architecture, set the stage for Pakistani music legends to shine, including the mesmerising voice of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan.
And if this wasn’t enough, Nitin Sawhney and Naughty Boy add further melody to the film’s music, as they talk about their experience of creating appropriate tunes such as the foot-thumping “Mahi Sona”.
“It was a great process and experience to create an appropriate language and expression of music which added elements and flavours to the film,” says the duo enthusiastically. “It’s also an ode to our South Asian heritage.”
Even though the tone of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is distinctly feel-good, the film thoughtfully explores the unconventional ways that relationships may be built, and what multiculturalism can teach one another. Is it, in fact, more sensible to be practical about relationships? Is it possible to learn to love the person we’re with? Is love really the only ingredient needed for a successful marriage? Why was Kaz’s sister shunned for marrying outside of their culture? And do Western relationships draw more on the ideas of assisted partnerships than we realise?
A clever reference is drawn from the moment Prince Charles shattered many royal dreamers’ hearts with his dismissive “whatever in love means” comment upon his engagement to Princess Diana, thus proving that these notions may be closer to home in the West than one might believe.
James and Latif are a charismatic pair, with Zoe married to her independence and Kaz gently questioning her prejudices. The film is also a vivid demonstration of British talent, with Asim Chaudhry playing a hilarious yet questionable rishta uncle, comic duo Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen appearing as a pair of TV commissioners with a briefcase of ridiculous ideas, and Nikkita Chadha as the confrontational Baby — the film’s feisty rebel, in love with dancing.
“It’s incredible to be part of such a diverse and stellar cast,” smiles Chadha animatedly, while sipping on tea at Soho House in London. “My character is defiant and nonconformist — perfectly conflicting with the name “Baby “. I’m really excited for everyone to watch the film.”
Divorce is still stigmatised in South Asia — a theme often carefully avoided in desi films and television. Khan gently addresses it as a twist in the film – with a reminder that be it love or assisted marriage — amicable and mutual separations are a possibility.
As a complete package, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” deftly wraps up all the emotions associated with love and family in its joyful, musical, and vibrant 109-minute runtime. With its cast, music and direction, this classic rom-com is set to make you laugh, cry and, even more importantly, make you think about the multi-dimensional nature of love within and across cultures. The film is now showing in cinemas worldwide, and we highly recommend it.
Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and chilli paneer. She recently released her first book called The Poor Londoner, which talks about comical expat experiences people face worldwide. With degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing, her work and research on gender inequality in the travel industry is taught in universities across the globe. Her travels and everyday fails can be found on Instagram (@thepoorlondoner) and YouTube (The Poor Londoner).
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan and now blended into the hustle-bustle of London, Marium is a trainee technology consultant, by day and sometime also night, and also finishing her bachelors in Digital Innovation. In the midst of striving to be someone, she enjoys dreaming about the impossible (impossible according to desi standards and sometime Harry Potter impossible as well), and writing about them. She enjoys baking, decorating things and a cup of chai!