|Click on the links below to read a specific review
Krutin Patel's "ABCD" is the ground-breaker. Independently produced on the East Coast on what clearly was a tight budget, the film already has played in several festivals including the recent Asian American International Film Festival in New York. Reminiscent of early films by Wayne Wang and Ang Lee, "ABCD" should win enthusiastic fans in specialty venues.
Patel is an NYU film grad and Indian-born filmmaker who emigrated to the United States at age 8. In "ABCD," he has crafted a wryly observant comic drama about a conservative Hindu widow and her grown, assimilated children, a film that reminds us that our country is less of a cultural melting pot than a crazily tossed salad.
The title refers to American Born Confused Desi, a popular expression among Indians raised in the States. The focus is on a sister and her older brother, and one of the very best things about this film is that it captures the special understanding, tolerance and tightly woven bond that can occur between siblings.
No matter how badly each screws up, Nina and Raj are there for each other in their battles not only with the world but their beloved but increasingly disconnected mother Anju (played by none other than the grande dame of Indian acting, Madhur Jaffrey).
Anju lives in an unblemished New Jersey suburb, where she putters in her kitchen making delicious samosas and pakoras and holding long conversations about their children with her late husband. She now questions the wisdom of ever coming to America and despairs over the unmarried state of her children, who live in Manhattan.
Nina (the breathtakingly beautiful Sheetal Sheth) so resents Indian culture that she dates only white Americans. On the other hand, Raj (the equally handsome Faran Tahir) has agreed to an arranged marriage -- albeit American style with a protracted engagement that has stretched to two years and premarital bedroom privileges.
Anju contrives to reintroduce her daughter to a childhood friend from Bombay, Ashok (Aasif Mandvi, whose brilliant one-man show, "Sakina's Restaurant," wowed critics in Los Angeles and New York). While fresh off the boat, Ashok nevertheless has a refreshingly candid sense of humor and an emotional directness Nina never encounters in her white boys. But he also reminds her of her origins, which don't jibe with the all-American bar girl image she hides behind.
Raj, an accountant caught up in office politics, realizes he doesn't love his sweet, well-meaning fiancee. But he is resigned to their eventual marriage until he meets an attractive co-worker who ignites a fire within him he thought long ago extinguished. But Raj deliberately doesn't pursue a relationship out of respect for both women, a gesture that, in all probability, neither woman ultimately appreciates.
Patel, who co-wrote the script (with James Ambrose) and directed, has developed a story that springs out of a specific cultural situation yet stands on its own as an engaging portrait of people caught up in the hurly-burly of modern urban life.
The film ends on an epiphany that underscores the "confused" in the ABCD acronym. Decisions have been made by both siblings, yet each is left to wonder if the choices are right.
Deirdre Broderick's music combines Indian and Western flavors where the piano and sitar coexist quite nicely. And cinematographer Milton Kam and designer Deborah Schreier play these immigrant blues against a backdrop of an antiseptic East Coast that seems intent on denying the existence of any ethnicity.
"ABCD" is an acronym for American-Born Confused Dashi (Indian), but there's nothing confused about this assured and fully realized first film by Krutin Patel, who was born in India in 1966 and emigrated to the U.S. with his parents at age 8.
The generation gap that opens between immigrant parents and their children, quickly caught up in American culture and values, has been explored many times, including by Indian American filmmakers, but "ABCD" possesses exceptional depth and perception. What's most refreshing is that it's not just another cultural-clash comedy, but a serious, even painfully probing work, though not without humor. Many people will identify with the personal and professional challenges facing Patel's people, obstacles intensified by the difficulty in forging a cross-cultural sense of identity.
Patel focuses on the widowed Anju Mehta (the peerless Madhur Jaffrey) and her two adult children, Raj (Faran Tahir) and Nina (Sheetal Sheth). Raj is a handsome, hard-working Manhattan accountant; Nina is a beautiful executive at a New York advertising agency. Anju lives in a spacious suburban New Jersey home. Her children visit frequently, but she's lonely and tends to live in the past.
A woman of elegance and charm, Anju has a strong, dominating personality, and Raj is a dutiful son, allowing himself to enter an engagement for a traditional arranged marriage to a lovely, traditional woman (Adriane Foriana Erdos) he respects and likes but does not love.
Anju pressures Raj by her assumption that he is certain to receive an expected promotion and Nina by fixing her up with suitable prospective bridegrooms, ticking off their academic backgrounds, professional status and annual income. Nina has reacted to her mother with rebellion, masking her fear of intimacy with promiscuity and rejecting her heritage as much as possible. For all her formidable, old-country ways Anju is nevertheless loved by her children, and the siblings have a close, mutually sustaining bond despite differences in temperament.
Nina is in denial over how much she's hurt by her ex-fiance's lack of courage in refusing to introduce her to his wealthy parents. The mother and father's expectations for him seem as high as Anju's are for her children--expectations that the former fiance Sam (Rex Young) assumes would preclude a wife of Indian descent.
But now Nina has by chance crossed paths with Sam 11/2 years after their breakup, just as she is being pursued by a childhood friend, Ashok (Aasif Mandvi), freshly arrived from India. Even if he's rushing things, Ashok, who is witty and has an idiosyncratic sense of humor, has made an impression on Nina, whose often rude veneer is actually pretty thin.
Meanwhile, just as things get tense at the office, Raj and Julie (Jennifer Dorr White), an attractive, direct and intelligent new co-worker, become taken with each other. Amid considerable, acute cultural observations, Patel deftly maneuvers both brother and sister into choices in their romantic lives--choices that will cause pain for themselves and others, regardless of the path they take. In short, Patel suggests that following one's heart may not be so simple after all--that there may not be a correct choice.
"ABCD" was made on a modest budget, but there's no sense of cost-cutting. It's polished without being slick; well-paced and graceful and brought alive by stellar performances led by Jaffrey, the unforgettable presence in numerous Merchant Ivory films, most notably "The Autobiography of a Princess" and the recent "Cotton Mary." Jaffrey, who is also the film's executive producer, has the knack of making Anju at once exasperating and lovable, amusing (intentionally and otherwise) and obtuse yet gallant.
Patel sees his people in the round, and Tahir reveals the reflective Raj as thoroughly as Sheth illuminates the tempestuous Nina. The splendid supporting cast includes David Ari as Brian, who finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being Raj's longtime best friend but also his competitor in the workplace.
You see, for most people, Krutin Patel's ABCD is a Hindi film. A movie about the difficulties within the Hindi communities and outside it that those of a Hindu background that have adjusted and become 'American' are faced with. The prejudice, the hardships, the joys, the repressions and the joy and horror of liberty.
Frankly though, this isn't a tale about just people from India now living in America... Sure a narrow minded log-line assistant could claim that, because they had no eyes and no soul to go with it. For me ABCD is a story about siblings and their mother. It is about being traditional or being who you are. It is about doing the expected versus what is right for you. It is about the chains of expectations and the what events one must live through before breaking them.
I haven't seen this film in over a year now. It has been... seemingly forever. I remember clearly the themes, if not the dialogue. The sister... my god, Nina I believe her name was and the actress... Lovely beyond words. She had a wild streak in her eyes and in her character. She would do and be anything to not be Hindi. She was the ABCD of the story... the American Born Confused Deshi - my understanding of the word Deshi is that it means you come from an area or type of place within India originally. She argues with her traditional mother, who likes to think that she is still intact, that she is still pure... that she will marry a nice Indian man and have a good family. That this man will have a good providing job and that her security is taken care of. Though he is the better man in her life... She reacts violently to that which her mother expects of her.
Now while Nina is the beauty, it is her brother Raj, who I adore beyond words in this film. Raj is a deeply textured and involving portrait of a man, who knows what his path is and sees it as a very flat and unchanging world. He is not happy. He works hard, does his job, finds friends being promoted above him... contemplates that racism is at work at all times. Believes he is being treated badly because of the color of his skin or the number of vowels in his last name. And when he finds out the flip side to it all his world crashes, and continues to crash and it is simply wonderful to watch this actor... Faran Tahir grab me in and hold me throughout. This man should be in ALOT of films. A LOT!
Did you see TWO FAMILY HOUSE or GOAT ON FIRE AND SMILING FISH because of me? For me this is like those films in terms of just being fantastically real and human and vital.
This is playing extremely limited across the country. Check your listings, see if your reviewers have reviewed it. But know that this film is witty, smart, intelligent, superbly acted and passionately told. Krutin Patel is hopefully going to make quite a few more films for us all to see. He is quite talented, and ABCD is sure enough evidence that he can tell a captivating story, that though I haven't seen it in a year... It has not faded from my memory, it is here... in my noggin... How many last that long after a single viewing? Eh?
But while "American Desi" was content to be a light romantic comedy, "ABCD" manages to be both funny and a poignant character study. You certainly don't have to be Indian to identify with the people in the movie, although a certain befuddlement over life's big questions would probably help sustain your enjoyment.
"ABCD" follows the adult offspring of Anju (Madhur Jaffrey), a widow living in New Jersey who has never fully reconciled herself to coming to the States. On the surface, her two children couldn't seem more opposite. Nina (Sheetal Sheth) rebels against her Indian heritage, promiscuously sleeping with almost every man she meets -- provided he's not Indian. Raj (Faran Tahir), meanwhile, is the dutiful son, agreeing to an arranged marriage with a proper Indian woman and devoting himself to moving up the corporate ladder in an accounting firm.
However, things aren't quite what they seem with either Nina or Raj. After meeting Ashok (Aasif Mandvi), a childhood friend from Bombay, Nina is forced to concede that there are things about her family's traditions that she likes. And Raj, passed over for a promotion, meets an attractive co-worker (Jennifer Dorr White), prompting him to examine why he keeps prolonging his engagement. (It has been two years.)
Director Krutin Patel, who co-wrote "ABCD" with James McManus, keeps his characters' attitudes and ambitions completely ambiguous all the way through the film's unsettling ending, which is about as honest a finale as you'll ever see in a movie about relationships. The film also cuts through cultural stereotypes with a frankness and wit that's impossible not to embrace. It's easy to see why "ABCD" has been a favorite on the film festival circuit for more than a year. Check it out while you can.
While none of the principals in Krutin Patel's affectionate and affecting comedy-drama ABCD actually is American-born, the epithet is hurled at Nina (Sheetal Sheth), an India-born, New Jersey-bred professional woman hellbent on defying the traditional Hindu customs of her widowed mother, Anju (Madhur Jaffrey).
No arranged marriage or long engagement for Nina. This comely gal is into instant-grat, diving into sexual relationships with Caucasian men because she rejects her heritage and wants to assimilate as swiftly as she can. Her older brother, Raj (Faran Tahir), would seem to be her opposite. He acceded to an arranged engagement and regularly sees his fiancee, Tejal, though he won't commit to a marriage date.
As directed by Patel, who cowrote the screenplay with James McManus, the film is an involving study of sibling and interpersonal relationships. It has all the felicities and flaws of a first feature: Its freshness of situation is charming but its performances, particularly Sheth's as Nina, are not always convincing.
What Patel is very good at is creating characters who arouse sympathy and annoyance, often simultaneously. What Sheth may lack in acting finesse, she abundantly possesses in her ability to be grating and ingratiating - just like sisters and daughters everywhere. Likewise Jaffrey, the legendary Indian actress familiar from Merchant Ivory movies such as Shakespeare Wallah and Heat and Dust, is at once the most smothering and lovable of mothers.
I particularly liked the way Patel structures the sibling arrangement between Nina and Raj, the most primal and primary of the relationships seen in the film. Because they straddle two cultures and anxiously deal with the suspicions that they are insufficiently Indian or insufficiently American, they have a true empathy and understanding of The Problem.
Nina's determination to reject Indian culture is compromised when, to appease her mother, she agrees to date Ashok (the soulful Aasif Mandvi), an FOB she knew as a child in India. Nina's cultural split is powerfully conveyed during a scene in a fast-food restaurant where, flouting Hindu dietary laws against eating beef, she devours hamburgers and tries to shock Ashok, though she clearly is drawn to him.
That I found myself yelling out loud at a character about to get engaged to someone unworthy is a sign of how psychologically involved I'd become with Patel's characters.
It's compassionate, funny and honest. First-time director Krutin Patel (who co-wrote with James McManus) makes good use of a low budget and a strong cast that includes the great Madhur Jaffrey and Aasif Mandvi (who stars in Ismail Merchant's forthcoming "The Mystic Masseur.")
"ABCD" itself stands for "American Born Confused Desi" (the term Desi is Hindi for "countryman" and roughly equivalent to the Yiddish "lantsman.")
As the American-born children of the Indian immigrants who came here in the '60s reach adulthood, we're seeing an increasing number of films and plays by young Indian-Americans dealing with issues of assimilation, intermarriage and cultural loss.
Some of these are little more than anti-assimilationist harangues that propagate as many stereotypes as they claim to explode.
But the better ones approach the quality of their British predecessors like "East is East" and "Bhaji on the Beach."
"ABCD" - like last year's "Chutney Popcorn" - with its rounded, believable characters is firmly in the latter category.
Anju (Jaffrey) is a widow who lives in New Jersey and who is desperate for her grown-up Manhattanite children to get married.
But promiscuous, Americanized Nina (the lovely Sheetal Sheth, who resembles an Indian Alicia Silverstone) not only has no intention of entering an arranged marriage, she's exclusively interested in WASPy boys.
And Anju's workaholic accountant son Raj (the excellent Faran Tahir) is delaying marriage to the nice Indian girl he's been engaged to - and sleeping with - for two years.
Then Anju brings home Ashok (Mandvi) who is fresh off the plane, and there's something about him that Nina finds endearing. And something happens to Raj at the office that causes him to doubt both his career and engagement.
The movie, which opens today at the Quad, is a better and more serious film than its forerunner, ''American Desi,'' a comedy that opened here last March. The earlier film lightly explored the internal conflicts besetting an obnoxiously arrogant student, contemptuous of his Indian background, who is brought up short when he goes away to college and finds himself assigned to share living space with other, more traditionally inclined Indian-Americans.
The central characters of ''ABCD,'' Nina (Sheetal Sheth) and her older brother Raj (Faran Tahir), are both successful young professionals (she works in advertising, he in accounting) and both struggling with similarly conflicting impulses. Nina, who is beautiful, volatile and sexually promiscuous, is by far the bigger rebel. In full revolt against the strait-laced Hindu culture of her widowed, devoutly religious mother, Anju (Madhur Jaffrey), Nina is a willful, hot-tempered piece of work who treats her boyfriends like dirt.
When Anju pressures Nina into accepting a blind date with Ashok (Aasif Mandvi), a handsome young Indian with whom she used to play as a child and who has recently arrived in the United States, Nina violates convention by instantly sleeping with him. Once he falls in love with her, she puts him through the wringer. Nina finds herself deeply torn when her former fiancé, a wealthy WASP yuppie who broke off their engagement because his parents disapproved, stages an aggressive campaign to win her back.
Meanwhile Raj, who is more respectful of tradition, has been engaged for two years to the patiently devoted Tejal (Adriane Forlana Erdos), a Hindu traditionalist. But underneath his apparent serenity, Raj seethes with discontent. And when Brian (David Ari), his best friend and office mate, receives a promotion Raj feels he deserved, his composure cracks, and he frets that racism might have been the cause. Raj's self-doubt is made worse by his attraction to Brian's replacement, Julia (Jennifer Dorr White), a crisply matter-of-fact American woman.
Unlike ''American Desi,'' ''ABCD'' doesn't make light of its characters' conflicts, nor does it try to resolve them with feel-good formulaic solutions. The screenplay plods a bit, especially in the scenes of Anju moping about her suburban New Jersey home and talking to her dead husband. But the movie is sensitively acted. In her flamboyantly emotional performance, Ms. Sheth dares to make her character insufferable much of the time. Mr. Tahir's Raj conveys a dignified suffering that deepens throughout the film and becomes quite touching once the character decides to follow his heart.
The resentment of people from traditional cultures toward the freedom enjoyed by Americans is a theme torn from the past month's headlines as the U.S. ponders why people from certain parts of the world hate us. What must be particularly galling to the traditionalists is that people who emigrated from their Third World lands to New York and other urban areas have become Americanized, not the least being their contempt of the liberated sexual mores of their landsmen.
This reminds me of the Nov. 5 cover of The New Yorker magazine, which features a frightened Muslim (perhaps Afghan) cab driver, his vehicle overloaded with American flags and stickers. He recognizes that at times like these, the American public most favors assimilation. We want all Americans to be, well, all-American. Family situations are different, however. I can't prove this, but I'd guess that most parents want their kids to marry others who are of their own ethnic group or religious background. Krutin Patel deals with this phenomenon in "ABCD," which is an abbreviation for "American-born confused Desi." The people in the film are culturally displaced. They have been uprooted from their traditional culture while not really accepted by mainstream America. The principal character, one who carries the story beautifully, is Nina (Sheetal Sheth), a strikingly attractive, light- skinned Indian in her twenties who had graduated from an American college and holds a good job. Though thoroughly Americanized, sexually free, she is regularly pressured by her widowed mother Anju (Madhur Jaffrey), who missed her real calling--that of a Jewish mother. She wants grandchildren before she dies and has invited Nina's childhood friend Ashok (Aasif Mandvi) to family dinner. Though the two young people seem to hit it off, Nina has been accustomed to dating white men because she opposes arranged marriages and is in rebellion against Hindu values. In a finely woven parallel plot, Nina's more traditional brother Raj (Faran Tahir) is preparing to marry Tejal (Adriane Forlana Erdos) based on an arrangement made years before, but Raj, whose best friend Brian (David Ari) is white, has his eye on a new, white office worker, Julia (Jennifer Dorr White).
Confusion, confusion, confusion. Who am I? is probably the leading question asked by philosophers, one which has especially broad dimensions in a country like the U.S. which embraces a diverse population from the world over. Krutin Patel has worked a great many ideas into his 106-minute film so cleverly that he easily explores various problems and opportunities that this Indian community experiences. Raj wonders whether he is passed over for a promotion because of his ethnic background or because he is not sufficiently outgoing for the particular job he seeks. He must decide whether to abandon his traditional-minded fiance even knowing that she will have a tough time finding another Indian man to marry her since she is no longer a virgin. He makes a terrific foil for his fiery sister Nina, given a wonderful performance by Sheetal Sheth whose big expressive eyes flash when she is angry and, to the relief of the audience, finally shed tears when she comes to grip with the ways she is avoiding intimacy with the men who love her. The one weakness in the story falls on Rex Young's performance as Sam--who seems too much of a dork to arouse the interest of the exuberant Raj.
As in "Eat Drink Man Woman" we get some exposure to Asian cuisine as Madhur Jaffrey--who has been published for her spicy recipes--gets to tempt us with her samosas so much that we want to head for East Sixth Street for chow (if we're lucky enough to be in New York when taking in this superb film). Not only is "ABCD" a marvel to watch: it breaks ground in being perhaps the first film about the Indian immigrant community in the U.S. today--one that does not treat the South Asian immigrants as though they were all cab driver or people peddling papers at
Thats because curry means far too many things in Indian cooking to be trusted to some all-purpose package. Why should some factory tell you what to put in it? Real Indian cooks blend their own, carefully grinding each chosen ingredient by hand.
Its not far from the way "ABCD," a new film about Indian Americans, seems to have been made, too. Its not a slick, Hollywood product; its clearly, roughly handmade. But its also been made with truth, and love.
Set in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, Its the story of two Indian-American yuppies, Raj and Nina. Hes in accounting, and a little traditional. Shes in advertising, and quite a bit more modern.
They are both, deep in their heart, desi Indian. Yet theyre also something more, facing both the demands of Indian tradition and the opportunities of American culture.
"ABCD," jokes one friend knowingly. "American-born, confused desi."
How they try to work out that confusion is what drives "ABCD" throughout. Like many hyphenated Americans, the characters here find that hyphen serves as a fulcrum, their lives a balancing act between their place of origin and their home of choice.
Raj, for example warmly played by Faran Tahir is assimilated enough to find his old-fashioned Indian fiancée exotic, yet not so assimilated that he doesnt worry he sticks out at his WASPy firm. Nina played by Sheetal Sheth, a Phillipsburg native making her feature debut revels in casual sex, yet finds herself oddly drawn to the conservative immigrant her mother wants her to meet.
That Raj and Ninas mother is played by the veteran Madhur Jaffrey, star of "Heat and Dust," Shakespeare Wallah" and author of several wonderful cookbooks, is an enormous help. So, too, is the scripts willingness to take chances, and to trust its audience; although both Raj and Nina are eventually faced with romantic choices, neither makes the one you might expect (or even, probably, the one they should).
Krutin Patels "ABCD" is a first feature, and its sometimes an awkward one, hampered by an obviously tight budget. Although there are scenes in Old Bridge, Manhattan and Fairfield County, Conn., the interiors often feel cramped. The casting feels a bit makeshift at times, as well for a brother and sister, Raj and Nina have oddly different accents, and a few of the supporting actors are too young, or old (or amateurish) for their roles.
But those faults can be forgiven just like that clumping in that handmade curry powder, or that not-quite crushed cardamom pods. Its not a sign of carelessness. Its a sign of hurry and of home.
Anju is the kind of mother determined that her children be happy, even if she makes them miserable in the process.
Played by the great Asian Indian actress Madhur Jaffrey ("Cotton Mary"), Anju meddles in the affairs of her grown son and daughter, who have lived in New Jersey since grade school. She introduces nice Indian boys to Nina (Sheetal Sheth) and quietly chides the suitably engaged Raj (Faran Tahir) about a promotion at work.
You've seen "ABCD" before, just with different ethnic flavoring. Krutin Patel's low-budget slice-of-life also does what many independent works strive for, depicting with poignancy and humor a culture unfamiliar to the mainstream.
The title stands for "American-Born Confused Deshi," which is a polite way to describe Nina, who is downright bitchy to anyone who encourages her to embrace anything Indian. Sick of being viewed in the stereotypical role of submissive Indian female, she sleeps around and makes sure that her lovers know who's the boss.
So it is a surprise to everyone when the Indian Ashok (Aasif Mandvi) sweeps her off her feet. A blind date set up by mom, he knew the family back in India and charms Nina with his old-fashioned notions of courting, politely declining Nina's offer to sleep together on the first date. She wins.
Brother Raj, meanwhile, is frustrated at the accounting firm where he is wrongly passed over for promotion. He's also having second thoughts about marrying the traditional Indian beauty he's been engaged to for two years.
All these complications don't make much sense to their mother, who married her late husband after knowing him only two weeks. Love, she says, came later. Lonely and obsessed with her children, she often talks to her dead husband when no one is around. When the thoughtful Raj walks in on her one day, he discreetly leaves the room and reenters so she won't know that he's seen her.
"ABCD" is full of intimate touches like this, offering a refreshing alternative to the slick fare on art house screens lately.
If life was as simple as the 'ABCs', our lives would be much easier.
However, it would mean we wouldn't have movies such as ABCD, a touching, honest feature film about the struggles of East Indian immigrants in New York.
Krutin Patel is the writer, producer and director of ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). He tells the story -- warts and all -- of a brother and sister, Raj and Nina and their mother Anju.
Anju wants her children to have all the material perks of the Western culture, but none of the mental and emotions that go with them. The strong-willed mother wants her children to live the American dream at their day jobs, but live the traditional Hindu life while at home.
Nina, played by the doe-eyed newcomer Sheetal Sheth, rebels by being a wild child, and by using sex as her weapon of choice.
Her older brother Raj (Faran Tahir) does his best to obey his mother and is engaged to Tejal, a traditional woman whom he respects, but does not love.
Thankfully, Patel does not take sides. Yes, he seems a bit more sympathetic to the younger generation, but he also freely exposes their flaws.
He also doesn't pretend to have all the answers, which is made clear in the honest, yet unwelcome ending.
Writer/director Krutin Patel has crafted a low-budget but affecting multi-cultural story here. ABCD (which stands for "American Born Confused Desi") is nothing particularly fresh or exciting, but its intentions are so sincere and, for the most part, its so well-acted that it emerges as quite affecting. Jaffrey is, as always, both warmly human and imperious, playing one more witty variation of a domineering Indian matriarch. Mandvi and Erdos both manage to be very moving as the somewhat bewildered romantic partners of her confused kids. As their Caucasian counterparts, Young has an amusing, rather typical All-American thickheadedness, cluelessly marveling at the cultural traditions at which Nina sticks her nose up, while White brings a poignant delicacy to her role. The films major weaknesses lie in the performances of Tahir, who is just too bland to inspire much interest, and Sheth, who is forced and monotonous. The pair was obviously cast primarily for their looks, and one ends up caring far less about them than their more complexly drawn lovers.
Raj (Faran Tahir) and Nina (Sheetal Sheth) are the only children of the widowed Anju (Merchant Ivory regular Madhur Jaffrey), each of whom is stuck between their own desires and their dedication to their mother. Having emigrated from India when they were 6 and 8, the children barely remember their country of birth, but their mother alone would be enough to remind them of their obligations. Ninas had a series of short (sometimes very short) relationships with what seem to be exclusively white men, while Raj is beginning to feel suffocated in his engagement to his tradition-minded Indian fiancee Tejal (Adriane Forlana Erdos). Anju, played by Jaffrey with just the right comic edge, wants only the best for her children assuming that "best" means meeting all of her expectations. Forever nagging Nina to date a nice Indian boy (her relationship advice consists of "maybe if you learned how to make samosas, youd meet someone nice") and smothering Raj with her expectations, whos so used to being the ideal son that he cant bear to tell his mother when things dont go according to plan.
Patel and James McManus script introduces a series of fairly predictable, mainly romantic complications: Raj becomes attracted to a white co-worker, while Nina finally does fall for a nice Indian boy, then freaks out when he proposes after a week. Patel develops his plot ably, if sometimes without inspiration; though the acting in the three central roles is sometimes very good, the supporting parts verge from serviceable to cringe-worthy. The films conclusion, moreover, feels arbitrarily downbeat, as if mandated by the (false) assumption that unhappy endings are more profound than happy ones. It would be one thing if the film had shown more tonal variation up until its last 15 minutes, but as it is, it feels as if the first four-fifths and the last came from two different movies.
That said, theres a lot to be admired in ABCD, and not just because the films subject matter guarantees it a virtually empty playing field. Though Patel reduces racial issues to brown and white, his three main characters are developed enough to give you a sense of the spectrum. Like its title, ABCD may be only the beginning, but its a good start.
Krutin Patels dramedy, ABCD, explores the complexities and hardships of assimilation to American culture. ABCD American Born Confused Desi is a common term used to describe Asian-Indian immigrants in the United states who have lost their values and ties with their "native" culture. Patel, who immigrated to the United states at the age of 8, sheds an honest and poetic light on the struggle not only between first generation Indian-Americans and their traditional Indian relatives.
The efficient plot succeeds by honestly portraying the difficulties of Indian integration into American society and the resulting turmoil that ignites between Indian parents and their Americanized children. Patel successfully balances light and dark moments as he tells the story of how brother and sister Nina and Raj struggle with finding their place in the new world, while maintaining peace with their well-intentioned mother Anju (Madhur Jaffrey).
Nonetheless, Anju keeps on trying to foist the old ways on both of her children, taking them to the Hindu temple and inviting a friend over to tell their fortunes. She introduces Nina to Ashok (Aaasif Mandvi), who has recently immigrated to America. He was her childhood friend and although he is FOB (fresh off the boat), this sincere young man sees at once that she doesn't let people get close to her. Ashok is soon serious about Nina, but she dumps him for Sam (Rex Young), a rich old flame who comes back into her life with a proposal of marriage.
Meanwhile, Raj experiences difficulties at work when he is passed over for a promotion that should have been his. He confides in Julia (Jennifer Dorr White), a new coworker who soon develops a crush on him. She helps Raj see how truly uncomfortable he is in his relationship with Tejal.
Similar in spirit and feel to The Joy Luck Club, East Is East, and My Son the Fanatic, this fine film conveys the trouble many ethnic individuals have when they find themselves living in a twilight zone between the customs of the old country and the ever-changing values of America. The title of the movie is an acronym for American-Born Confused Desi, which a young Indian bride uses as a behind-the-back slur of Nina.
The title is meaningful in the Indian community. ABCD stands for "American-Born Confused Desi." An ABCD is a Desi (pronounced "day-SHE", an Asian Indian) born in the US and torn between the customs of India and those of the US. ABCD is the story of Nina (played by Sheetal Sheth) and Raj (Faran Tahir), a sister and brother, who work in Manhattan, just an hour's drive and half a world away from their gently manipulative mother Anju (Madhur Jaffrey), living in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Nina is attractive and outgoing. She is a sassy version of the Amy Irving character in CROSSING DELANCY. She wants no part of being an Indian, preferring the sexually promiscuous modern life of an American. Just now she has dumped one boy friend for thinking of her as Indian and has rediscovered Sam (Rex Young), a lover of eighteen months earlier. Anju would like to fix her up with Ashok, a much more traditional Indian who was a barely-remembered childhood friend. To Nina, Ashok represents everything she is rebelling against.
Much closer to his mother is Raj, who sits for hours talking to Anju in her porch swing. Raj is a talented executive in an accounting firm. He works with a college friend. In another familiar plotline, Raj is very good with accounting and out-performs his friend, but his friend, who looks less foreign, seems to be getting all the breaks from upper management. Meanwhile Raj has been engaged two years to a talented Indian woman Tejal (Adriane Forlana Erdos), but cannot bring himself to set a date to marry her.
ABCD was made two years ago when writer director Krutin Patel was just 33. He takes some of the standard approaches to showing us the Indian culture in America. Primarily he seduces the viewer with appealing photography of Indian food. [Following the film my wife and I changed our plans and had dinner in the same Indian neighborhood where Anju probably would have shopped.] We also see
While the situations and some of the style of ABCD are familiar, Patel is able to find truth and believability in his characters. I rate this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. ABCD should not be confused with AMERICAN DESI, a film released earlier this year. If the name Jaffrey is familiar, Madhur Jaffrey, who plays the mother, is the former wife of familiar Indian actor Saeed Jaffrey.
Directed and co written by Patel, the film successfully brings out the conflict between Indian culture, as represented by the conservative Hindu widow (Madhur Jaffrey) and the American values of the two youngsters. The tragicomic film goes on to explores the tug of war between the two opposing cultures and the emotional consequences of growing up without a firm cultural identity. The 1.3 million strong Indian community in North America has never before been portrayed with such sophistication and concern. Driving away from stereotypes, the film has created believable and accurate Indian characters. Combining wit and humor the film script delivers several memorable lines and punches. A few scenes including the mother's attempt to ward of a speeding ticket are handled with great panache. Tightly edited and aesthetically rich the film about the culturally lost kids also strikes an emotional cord.
The brilliant performance of debutant Sheetal Seth as Nina, the young unruly daughter who uses sex as a shield to avoid intimacy, is likely to land her several roles. The commercial release of ABCD in North America will definitely play a fundamental role in increasing the cultural profile of the Indian community. ABCD is bound to be a winner among expatriate audiences and will travel well in the mainstream market as well.
At other times, the stereotypes are examined more carefully, woven together into intricate threads, which are then pulled apart in order to make a more truthful statement than any tired old stereotype could possibly manage to do. ABCD, the debut feature film by Krutin Patel, is a movie that reaches for reality, in refusing to pander to the immediate familiarity that easy stereotypes provide.
The storyline is simple: Anju (Madhur Jaffrey), an Indian widow in New Jersey, tries to create some sort of order in the lives of her two children, Raj (Faran Tahir) and Nina (Sheetal Sheth). Like most South Asian people, Anju believes that if her children have good careers and marry properly (i.e. Indian spouses), all the problems in their lives will be solved. Raj has chosen to go along with his mother's line of thinking; he works hard as an accountant and is engaged to Tejal, a good Indian girl. Nina, on the other hand, is every Indian mother's nightmare: a demon child who pursues a high-powered advertising career in Manhattan by day and white men in bars by night.
Anju is fairly run-of-the-mill stuff for Indian mothers - she sweet-talks traffic cops out of giving her tickets, brings in astrologers and palmists to predict rosy futures for her children, cooks samosas, and tries to arrange would-be suitors to please her difficult daughter. But Nina's promiscuity and Raj's obedience immediately set up the first tension in this scenario, because usually it's the girl who's obedient and the boy who sleeps around - or at least it's more acceptable to South Asian sensibilities. By refusing to go along with the time-honored stereotypes, by turning them on their heads, character complexity becomes more than just a possibility for the movie right from the start.
Nina, on the other hand, has no job problems, but her romantic life is a mess. She won't let anyone get close to her, and avoids commitment by cutting off relationships before they get too involving for her. The reason for her commitment phobia is a deep-seated confusion about her identity versus the identity her mother has envisioned for her. This is actually the same problem for Raj, too, but it doesn't come to light till the end of the movie, whereas for Nina, it's clear right from the start.
Unfortunately, while a Western environment gives Nina her freshness and independence, it also drives her away from Ashok and into the arms of Sam, a rich white ex-flame who comes back into Nina's life with a marriage proposal. In the end, Nina chooses Sam, simply because her fear of giving in to the inevitability of an arranged marriage is too great, and she herself is too mercurial and temperamental to be any great success as a typical Indian wife. Even though Ashok claims that isn't what he wants, Nina knows herself too well to take any chances.
Raj, too, finds himself able to break away from his moorings after some time (and a key event in both Raj and Nina's lives). Or perhaps "break away" is too strong a phrase; once the key anchor in his life is gone, he simply drifts away from expectations, from responsibility, from the rat-race of job-marriage-children. He may return to it eventually, but it will never be the same for him again. While Nina comes to her own conclusions quickly, Raj's voyage seems to just begin at the end of the movie.
All three main actors - Madhur Jaffrey, Faran Tahir, and Sheetal Sheth - handle their roles well, despite some awkward moments and a few clunky dialogues. Aasif Mandvi, as the bemused but gentle Ashok, is surprisingly sweet, and will make more than a few South-Asian American women consider the gawky cousin back home as more than just a family joke.
Don't go into this movie expecting that everyone will suddenly find their Indian culture and roots and turn into more integrated personalities - expect the opposite, in fact. But what happens to Raj and Nina makes perfect sense given who they are, where they live, and how they've grown up. ABCD is more truthful in that way, and though you might not go home with a happy ending, you will be left with an honest one.
If East is East was the most entertaining, the superbly acted and directed ABCD was easily the most accomplished and the most refreshing film on the theme of the Indian immigrant experience. Already the talk of Bombay film festival last year, the film is a welcome departure from other ABCD films that have been either about the struggles of the middle class Indian immigrant (along with the stereotype newspaper vendor/ taxi driver) to 'make it' or the successful Indian doctor/engineer making compromises (tsk,tsk) in his pursuit of the American Dream. This is the first film that deals sensitively, deeply and imaginatively about first generation American Indians -in other words - the ABCD. But, asks the film, are American Born Indians really confused? Is there a real identity crisis here and if so what is it? The film raises these questions and answers them interestingly and honestly , without resorting to clichés. This is possible because its maker, Krutin Patel, is an insider to the whole experience. Because Krutin was born in India and went to live in the States when he was 8, he isn't all that confused as the genuine ABCD, whom he has lived with, observed and now finally put on film. "The confusion, the crisis", he says, "hits those who have never grown up in India, those who have never experienced community, those who have never been embraced by the circle of family and friends in India." Patel studied film-making at the prestigious Tisch School of Arts at New York University and decided that for his first film it had to be a story he knew well - the story of the first generation American Indian - and that it was high time a movie was made that would stop demonizing them as a lost, rootless bunch and narrate the immigrant experience from their point of view.
Raj (Faran Tahir) and Nina (Sheetal Sheth) are first generation Indian immigrant children who have grown up in America and their mother, Anju (Madhur Jaffrey) who is desperately trying in her old age to reconcile her decision to come to America long ago. Nina, bright and beautiful, strong headed and promiscuous, is still rebelling against the conservative Hindu values of her mother. Her mother wants her to marry an Indian from India and she once again feels the old world oppressively closing in on her. Raj, her polar opposite, who has long ago agreed to an arranged marriage has now begun to feel trapped and wants out. But that would break his mother's heart.
The only easily recognizable character here is the widowed New Jersey Indian mother but the children - specially Nina - are to be admired but hard to figure out . One suspects that there are Ninas right here in India waiting to come out of their closets and declare their independence. Says Krutin: "Once, after a screening at the London film festival, this 13 year old Indian girl comes up to me and says: 'that's my life up there.' What we learn from this American desi movie is that this new community is slowly forging its own identity there, making its own choices, taking risks, and willing to face the consequence.
Krutin Patel didnt really consider himself as an actor's director (he has plans to make a David Lean like sweeping epic) but he is , among other things, certainly that: he coaxes superb performances from his actors, particularly Sheetal Sheth. Sheetal is a find, an Indian beauty who can act - she's star material. Patel co-wrote this terrific script with James Ambrose and the characterization of the brother and sister and their relationship is so nuanced and convincing that I found myself caring for what would happen to them as though these were real people I knew and loved. ABCD should do terrifically well in Indian theatres; the urban audience here are going to identify with the movie the way they did with Hyderabad Blues, except ABCD is a far superior film to anything we have seen so far in the genre. Krutin Patel is a film-maker to watch for.
The movie is a landmark one, an ambitious theme, perhaps the first of its kind ever made. It is a hard-hitting window into the immigrant Indian community who looked on America as the land of opportunity and the best place for their children to be brought to, or born in - raised, educated and expected to toe the line the Indian way. The younger generation were faced with the pitfalls and perils of straddling two cultures, unguided as how to establish a cultural identity for themselves, and unable to draw a line on self-destruction.
Madhur Jaffrey stars as Anju, a widowed mother of two grown second generation Indian immigrant children. She is conservative, controlling and given to constantly plotting and planning her childrens lives - all of which she discusses at length with her long-dead husband. Raj her son, played sensitively by Faran Tahir, is a gentle young man trapped in an arranged engagement with a woman he is not in love with, ever trying to please his mother. His sister Nina, starring gifted ingenue Sheetal Sheth, is the bane of her beleaguered mothers life. Headstrong and promiscuous, Nina engages in a series of one-night-stands with American men, shunning any suggestion of her Indian-ness. Her mother wants her to marry an Indian boy with good prospects even - if he is not a Brahmin. "Im lenient", she confides.
The movie is hilarious, and terribly chilling at the same time, for Patel has skillfully portrayed a community that exists if one is true to ones' self. His message is clear, urging parents to eschew the "ostrich" syndrome, of pretending that if one cannot see something, it doesnt exist. And to do more than see - to understand and guide rather than foist beliefs on their children. The dialogue is so strong and colorful, so real, the actors molded to fit their characters skins so adeptly that one could feel like a voyeur at times, peering guiltily through the window into this familys private lives.
For Chairman and Founder of WorldFest Houston, J. Hunter Todd, this movie was a major coup. "ABCD is a significant breakthrough film which crosses all barriers and reaches every segment of the community with an important message. It is of universal appeal, for not only are there cultural differences but also generation differences," enthused Todd.
Even before the echo of those encouraging words could fade away, public demand compelled the WorldFest officials to reschedule their program to include another screening of ABCD - unprecedented in the annals of WorldFest - for those who missed it the first time around.
"ABCD" (the title is explained late in the film) deals with an Indian family who has been in America for many years. Although their father has died, grown siblings Raj and Nina spend much time at home, visiting their rather traditional mother. Raj is an accountant who is engaged to an Indian girl while the rebellious Nina finds pleasure in bedding as many white men as she possibly can, only to find a flaw in them and toss them aside as soon as possible. The influence of the mother's traditional values on the storyline and trajectory of the siblings becomes more and more important as the film progresses.
What "ABCD" does so wonderfully is allow us to look in on this "new" type of American family, a modern immigrant household struggling to find a balance between their traditional culture with it's conservative values and the confusion of contemporary American life. As the film evolves, the steadfast Raj will meet an American woman who causes him to question his engagement and traditional values. Meanwhile Nina, much to her chagrin, finds the seeds of romance with a recent Indian immigrant whom she meets through her mother's matchmaking skills.
The story in the film may become slightly soapy at times, often seeming like watered-down Sirk/binder, but it never fails to intrigue and captivate us. The characters are so well drawn and so wonderfully brought to life by the actors in the piece that we are easily engaged with the film. This is a deeply layered, multi-textured piece that continually weaves a meaningful theme which, although easy to follow, is quite complex. The ideas being discussed here: The loss of cultural tradition; the confusion of existence in the modern, multicultural city; modern relationships in this new melting pot, are almost universal to everyone who lives in the United States. Even as non- Indian viewers, we are able to easily relate to the story and it's ideas.
"ABCD" is a finely crafted, wonderfully paced, beautifully written and perfectly directed film. The characters, and the actors who breathe magical life into them, will draw you into the film, it's themes and it's story. This is American filmmaking at it's finest in that it's about a segment of the fringe which is outside of the America mainstream, struggling to fit in, dealing with loss and love and tradition, and realizing there are no concrete solutions. In the end, the protagonist looks into the vast open future, eyes wide, feeling both a sense of freedom and of loss.