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_
Haider wades his way through Karachi’s expansive beach, climbing and tumbling over rocks, in Mumtaz’s memory. The vast landscape is perfectly encapsulated in the 4:3 aspect ratio — an unconventional yet welcoming choice. He vanishes into the sea, leaving his storyline open-ended. The screen fades to black. The film comes to a close. The gentle humming and lapping of the waves disappear. However, I stay put. Stumped, and unable to comprehend the masterpiece that Saim Sadiq, director of “Joyland”, has blessed Pakistanis with.
“It’s so important to narrate these stories in today’s world, where we’re often divided and seldom united,” says producer Apoorva Charan during an exclusive chat with Brown Girl Magazine.
It’s her feature film debut as a producer, and she’s justifiably beaming with pride.
Joyland is such a win for South Asia, but particularly, Pakistani storytelling. Every person I met, I felt like there was some characteristic or quirk about them that mirrored our characters in the film.
Set in the depths of androon Lahore, “Joyland” primarily revolves around Haider (Ali Junejo) — a meek, unemployed house husband in a borderline, passionless marriage. He’s happily helping Saleem bhai (Sohail Sameer) and Nucci bhabi (Sarwat Gilani) raise three kids, while the fourth one breaks Nucci’s water in the opening scene. Another girl is born, despite the ultrasound’s previous declaration of a baby boy.
“If I were to receive an award based on my character in “Joyland”, it’d definitely be for “best at single-handedly increasing the population of Pakistan,” says Gillani, as we howl with laughter during our spoiler-riddled chat with the cast of the film. “I think that, combined with the ‘coolest bhabi’ — those two will have my name on them.”
But Nucci’s wasn’t just a bhabi who pumped out a new baby every year. Sarwat’s character was given some level of agency — a woman who reminisced about a career in interior design before marriage and kids while smoking a cigarette in secrecy.
I think my philanthropic work plays a part in how I started saying no to bechari roles. How can I be a role model to these women I’m trying to help, while playing the same characters? The change came about with “Churails” and I vehemently stuck to it. My characters need to have a voice; a backbone.
On the other hand, Haider’s wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), works as a beautician at the local salon, busy dolling up brides in Lahore’s unpredictable load-shedding.
Both Haider and Mumtaz seem to have a relatively stable marriage based equally on societal expectations and gender-flipped roles. While Haider stays home, helps in the kitchen, and attempts at searching for a traditional job, Mumtaz carves autonomy and independence for herself. This is in spite of an oppressive family life characterised and dictated by Haider’s overly conservative, traditionalist father and patriarch, Rana (Salmaan Peerzada), who wishes for the couple to procreate a cricket team of just boys.
But Rana, known as Abba Jee, is also layered with his own 50 shades of grey, struggling with loneliness and a lack of intimacy, mirrored in his relationship with next-door neighbour Fayyaz (Sania Saeed). His emotional desires are symbolised by his physical impediments — the former handicapped with “what will people say”, and the latter with a wheelchair. The rules that he has for his children are the same that his children have for him, bound by tradition, norms, and society. They are not allowed to stray from what is considered “normal”.
The film’s women are strong which is pretty much a reflection of the women in Sadiq’s life. While Abba Jee shuns the love and companionship that Fayyaz offers, she stands her ground until firmly asked to leave. The complexity of each person’s emotions versus expectations is what makes “Joyland” relatable on a human level.
Alternatively, Mumtaz’s relationship with Haider is based on convenience and habit, where two people share the same bed but sleep facing away (partially because one of Saleem and Nucci’s young daughters crashes with them every night, illustrating the confined space both Haider and Mumtaz are allowed to be themselves in). The dynamics of their marriage drastically evolve once Haider’s eye catches Biba (Alina Khan), covered in blood as she walks numbingly into the hospital where Nucci gave birth. The introductory scene mirrored the brutal reality of violence inflicted upon Pakistan’s trans community; one of “Joyland’s” most haunting moments.
Mumtaz is asked to quit her job once Haider lands a gig as a “theatre manager” — a cover-up for his job as a background dancer at the nightclub Biba coincidentally performs at. The film portrays the traditional Pakistani marital social dynamic; men must work, and women must housekeep. Even when some level of independence is allowed to a married woman, she must forego her right to a career later in life. Understandably, it leaves Mumtaz devastated.
“It’s so strange how that’s just an acceptable act in our society,” Farooq chimes in, voicing Mumtaz’s thoughts. “Even if a woman is good at a 100 things, ultimately, she’s expected to quit her job to be a homemaker because that’s ‘her job’.”
With time, Haider falls into a routine and rhythm of working at the theatre and spending more time with Biba, allowing him an insight into the widespread transphobia she’s regularly faced with. Biba confides her innermost desire to be what she termed as “a complete woman” in order to land the same dancing opportunities as her counterparts.
Haider’s daring closeness to Biba leaves Mumtaz — who at this point is reliant on him as a best friend more than the physical intimacy he fitfully provides her — alone, isolated, and depressed. For Haider, it is liberating to leave problems at home and escape into a secret world centred around his deepest desires. He doesn’t want to be a bad person. He doesn’t wish to hurt or leave his wife. But his happiness now seemingly lies in dancing and exchanging stolen kisses with Biba. Farooq agrees:
I think Mumtaz and Haider were best friends at this point. They had an unspoken love for each other, which stemmed from the sanctity of their relationship. They might not be in love but they did love each other. In the eyes of our society and otherwise, they were married, but they’d drifted so far apart. There was love but it wasn’t possible to return from how distant they were.
This point of no return brings Haider to a crossroads — one where he is torn between his loyalty to Mumtaz and his love for Biba. Ultimately and ironically, in a particularly passionate moment, it is his curiosity pertaining to Biba’s sexuality that drives her to throw him out of her life. Defeated and guilt-ridden, he comes face-to-face with a pregnant and non-confrontational Mumtaz, who, by now, is aware of what Haider has been up to but doesn’t have the mental capacity to verbally digest his infidelity alongside a child she doesn’t want.
Her apprehensions about bearing and raising children are indicated throughout the early days of her pregnancy. The clutching of her stomach, the tightening of the rollercoaster belt during a visit to Joyland park, and her unease during the ultrasound are just a few examples of Mumtaz’s angst.
Abba Jee’s 70th birthday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mumtaz, surrounded by family and friends and feeling emptier than ever, takes her own life. A tragic full circle where one life ends as the other begins. Her suicide is harbingered by Rana’s birthday speech as he recalls a palmist once saying his bloodline would end with Haider.
“Joyland” is replete with polarity. There is a seamless hand-in-hand flow of happiness and devastation, longing and antipathy, birth and death. Pakistani society’s struggles with misogynistic gender roles are depicted in the most gentle, sensitive, and nuanced ways. The struggle is also ironic, considering Pakistan has one of the most progressive transgender legislations in the world. Trans people have the right to self-identify their gender in Pakistan – a right still denied to the trans community in many progressive countries, such as the UK.
A deeply reflective film with memorable and emotional characters doing justice to their performances. It’s currently running in cinemas here in the UK, and we highly recommend watching this poignant piece of art.
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.
Weddings, huh? Talk about a stress fest. And for the bride, it’s like a 24/7 walk on eggshells. However, add in a paranoid and overprotective sister, and you’ve got a recipe for a completely different degree of drama. In “Polite Society,” Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) and her gang of clumsy pals take the phrase “till death do us part” to a whole new level as they plot to “steal” the bride — aka Ria’s own sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), during her shaadi reception. But with a wedding hall packed with guests, a mother-in-law from hell, and a groom with more shades of fraud than a rainbow, this heist is anything but smooth sailing.
It goes without saying but “Polite Society” comes with a cast of wacky characters, gut-busting one-liners, and an action-packed heist sequence, making it a must-watch for anyone who loves a good comedy. I mean who hasn’t dealt with some serious wedding drama, am I right?
Lead actress Kansara agrees wholeheartedly. “I definitely have!” she chuckles, as I catch up with her at Soho Hotel in London. Despite the rubbish weather outside, Kansara is a ray of sunshine with her infectious enthusiasm.
The minute I read the script, I thought to myself…wow, playing Ria is going to be one wild ride!
And wild is definitely the right word to describe her character. Ria is a British-Pakistani martial artist-in-training from London, determined to become a professional stuntwoman. Her sister, Lena, who dropped out of uni, often ends up being the guinea pig for filming Ria’s stunts for YouTube, including one lovingly dubbed “the fury.” She reveals
I’d never done martial arts before this film. The stunt training started from the day I got the role, and it was three to four times a week all the way until we finished filming. It was a seven-week period in total, and boy, was it physically demanding. Oh my God, I think I can add a whole new skills section to my CV! But on a serious note, it was so much fun and we had an amazing stunt team. They, including my stunt double, taught me so much. It was important to me to do my own stunts as much as possible, but also strike a healthy balance.
For South Asian women, who are often expected to be quiet and agreeable, all that punching and kicking on set must have been cathartic, right?
Honestly, it was like anger management at work! I got to kick and throw things around — it was the perfect balance.
What sets Kansara apart from other actors starting out in the industry is her ability to draw from her own life experiences to bring authenticity to her characters on screen. Her career began with a degree from UCL and a communications job at a pharmaceutical company. But today, her versatile range and unwavering commitment to her craft have propelled her to the forefront of British comedy, portraying defiant South Asian women we’d love to see in real life.
From my own experience as a South Asian woman, I’ve always been told to do what’s ‘proper’ and think twice before speaking up. Playing a character like Ria and putting myself in her shoes, I felt like I was doing and saying things that I wish I had done at her age. It was almost like living through her and speaking my mind about things I never did.
Without a doubt, every South Asian woman on this planet wishes she cared more about herself and less about what other people think.
Ria totally inspired me. If only I had her mindset when I was younger, my career path would have taken off way sooner instead of worrying about other people’s opinions.
The chemistry between the cast members on and off-screen is so apparent, especially the sisterhood between Ria and Lena. The wild adventures of a bride, and her paranoid maid of honour navigating through family drama, are bound to create some unforgettable moments on set.
We both confess our love and admiration for Nimra Bucha’s portrayal of Raheela, Lena’s evil mother-in-law and share a teenage fangirling moment:
I’m obsessed with that woman. There’s something terrifying yet ultra sexy about her character in “Polite Society” that’s mesmerising. I absolutely loved the dance sequence. As South Asians, we’ve all grown up watching Bollywood films and idolising Madhuri Dixit’s iconic dance moves. “Polite Society” gave me my Bollywood heroine moment, and it was a dream come true with the costumes and jewellery.
It’s definitely a unique experience for Kansara, considering her former career was worlds apart from entertainment. So, what advice does she have for aspiring actors who may secretly wish to pursue the same path, but are unsure of the next steps? Kansara advises, drawing from her character’s heist-planning skills.
I believe starting small and honing your craft is an underrated superpower. If you’re passionate about acting, make short-form videos, and build your portfolio. You never know who might be watching.
So, grab your popcorn and your sense of humour, and get ready for “Polite Society” — the film that proves that sometimes, the most polite thing to do is kick some butt and save the day. It released in cinemas on April 28th, and I highly recommend it.