Pallavi — an outspoken, sarcastic, sexually frank Indian-American modern woman — is getting ready for a cousin’s wedding.
But with one hour left before the ceremony, she clashes with her more traditional-minded cousin Thini about wearing a sari for the celebration. Pallavi instead wants to wear a sexy, fun party dress, true to her modern sensibilities. Despite Thini’s increasingly strident urgings, Pallavi insists on keeping true to her identity, leading to a hilarious clash of ideas and cultures.
Directed by Kate Chamuris and written by and starring Sunita Deshpande, this sharply witty comedy captures the push and pull of cultural clashes with both great affection and acerbic bite.
Both in writing and in visual style, the film takes the vernacular of the modern urbane romantic comedy — complete with bright, glossy cinematography, rat-a-tat rhythm and very stylish apartment and wardrobe — and uses it to illuminate the psychological and ideological cross-currents that make up the inner dialogue of immigrant women of color in particular. The story is less invested with the role of romance and courtship in these women’s lives, however, and more interested in how they navigate self-expression and femininity, especially when traditional cultures are at odds with modern American ideas of womanhood.
The writing brings these concepts to life with wit and intelligence, embedding opposing perspectives between two very different characters. Writer-actor Deshpande plays both roles with great ease and terrific comic timing, and it’s simply great fun to see her play up the differences between the two cousins.
Even though it’s all clearly lighthearted in intent, the performances are quite sophisticated, able to balance both the sly wink of exaggeration with a hint at the real feelings and emotions underneath the personae. These buried feelings eventually bubble up, fueling one final push by Thini to get Pallavi into a proper traditional garment for a proper Indian wedding. The result is both hilarious physical comedy and a genuine conflict that many may recognize, as they try to reconcile two sometimes impossible POVs.
The clash between tradition and modernity has been the subject of many stories in film and literature, but “A Sari for Pallavi” is a refreshingly incisive comedic take, using laughter and levity to highlight how hard it can be to navigate the divide. Happily, the ending reveals that blending the two opposing poles is possible, with a certain relaxed acceptance, affection and flexibility. Giving up control or rigidity on both sides makes a detente possible — and creates a space for a happy co-existence to flourish, able to accommodate the impulses both to reserve and to change.