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Review: There’s more than meets the eye in charming ‘India Sweets and Spices’

A smiling young woman in the movie “India Sweets and Spices.”
Sophia Ali, center, in the movie “India Sweets and Spices.”
(Eliza Morse / SK Global Entertainment)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

“India Sweets and Spices,” a charming film from writer-director Geeta Malik, initially sneaks in under the guise of a standard rom-com as our spirited heroine, Alia (Sophia Ali), falls hard for Varun (Rish Shah) after a meet-cute in his family’s Indian grocery store. Fresh from hosting Greenpeace keggers as a UCLA freshman, Alia is home for the summer, where she bristles at the Indian social scene in posh Ruby Hill, N.J. (a stand-in for Cherry Hill), with its strictly enforced gender roles and emphasis on marriage. Meanwhile, handsome Varun is new in town — and will coincidentally be transferring to UCLA in the fall. (Why doesn’t real life work out this neatly?)

Alia and Varun initially seem well matched with their easy, sexy chemistry, but her rich parents’ snobbery and the social circle’s gossip and judgment threaten their relationship. The film, however, doesn’t just focus on Alia and Varun’s blossoming romance; it also explores class and gender in Indian American culture when Alia discovers that her traditional-seeming mother, Sheila (Manisha Koirala), may not have always been what she appears.

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“India Sweets and Spices” is shot and scored more like a Lifetime movie than a theatrical release, but it’s easy to look past its basic aesthetic to the deeper film beneath. The wit in Malik’s script is a match for Ali’s lively, often sarcastic delivery, proving an excellent fit between the lead actress and the material. Warmth and intelligence — and a strong sense of both fun and feminism — make Malik’s film worth a watch, and rising star Ali is worth keeping an eye on as well.

‘India Sweets and Spices’

Rated: PG-13, for some strong language, sexual material, and brief drug references

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 19, Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino


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