|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
The United States of America is a country built on immigration. Wave
after wave of people from other lands have arrived and contributed mightily
to what has come to be called "the melting pot." Those who have arrived
from foreign shores face innumerable obstacles, not the least of which is
just how much to assimilate. Many wish to retain aspects of their
homelands, whether culinary or cultural. Over the last 25 years or so,
Indians from the subcontinent have been arriving in the States and are
just now beginning to make their presence felt in economic and cultural
terms. Like many "minorities," though, they have not been adequately
reflected in the popular media. Usually an Indian is shown as either a taxi
driver, newsstand operator or convenience store owner (think Apu on TV's
"THE SIMPSONS"). Writer-director Krutin Patel has attempted to redress
this stuation in his feature debut, ABCD, which is an acronym standing for
"American-Born Confused Desi."
The film focuses on a traditional-minded, widowed mother Anju
(Madhur Jaffrey) whose sole reason for living appears to be seeing her two
children married with families of their own. Raj (Faran Tahir) attempts to
toe the line, working as an accountant, agreeing to an arranged marriage
with Tejal (Adriane Foriana Erdos) and basically playing peacemaker
between mom and his loose cannon sister Nina (Sheetal Sheth). Nina has
more or less rejected everything about her heritage. She dates and sleeps
solely with Caucasian men (and frequently finds fault with them),
challenges her mother's conservative values and generally comes across
as an unhappy and bitter soul.
In a parallel plot that seems to be one of those "only in the movies"
kind of story, Raj is passed over for a promotion that goes to his American
co-worker and pal Brian (David Ari) and then begins to have feelings for
the newly hired employee -- a Caucasian woman named Julia (Jennifer Dorr
White). At the same time, Anju arranges a meeting between Nina and a
childhood friend Ashok (Aasif Mandvi) and despite the initial attraction --
Nina hops into bed with him after one date -- she becomes unhinged by
the growing closeness. Brother and sister each have to question their lives
and the choices they make.
That's essentially the outline of the plot. Patel has written an
intriguing look at how the children of immigrants deal differently with life
choices than their parents. Anju frequently references her life in India,
something of which Raj and Nina only have fleeting, half-formed memories.
When Nina's old boyfriend (Rex Young) re-enters the picture, she has
to make a hard decision, just as Raj does when he asks his boss why his
passed over for the promotion he thought he clearly deserved.
Where Patel shows strength as a writer, he exhibits his lack of
experience as a director in his handling of his actors. Jaffrey tends
towards scenery-chewing which very few helmers have been able to keep
in check. Here she veers wildly from excess to subtlety. Her scenes in
which she implores her daughter to be more traditional-minded are played
at a fever pitch, yet there are some nice quiet moments, as when Anju
and Raj talk together while on a swing on the porch. Tahir makes Raj's
struggle palpable. He want to please everyone but ends up disappointing
himself and as he begins to awaken to his own desires, the actor grows
deeper into the character. Sheth, on the other hand, is saddled with a
difficult part. While a very attractive woman, she nonetheless seems too
lightweight a performer to completely make Nina's plight understandable.
Instead of shedding any light on the character's confusion, Sheth plays
Nina as strident leading the audience not to care about her plight. The
character's sarcasm and cruelty are meant to be shield to protect the lost
little girl underneath, but the viewer doesn't see that. All that's on display
is her bitchiness. Mandvi does fine as the somewhat naive Indian
immigrant who really believes he's come to America to find a wife and
meets instead with bitter disappointment. (The audience will breathe a
sigh of relief that he doesn't get saddled with the unpleasant Nina.)
ABCD has a number of flaws that can be common to low-budget
independent films. There are scenes that are poorly paced, acting that is
uneven at best, sound and lighting that don't serve the scene, etc. Still,
Patel should be commended for approaching a topic that isn't often
examined in films, particularly as it applies to a segment of the
population that has been stereotyped by the mainstream media. ABCD
gets an "A" for its intentions, but unfortunately just barely passes on all
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 105 mins.