- The Netflix offering is a welcome relief from some really bizarre, gothic and unbelievable shows on streaming platforms.
Lately, I have been perturbed by some of the shows dropping on streaming platforms. Being under a prolonged house arrest because of the pandemic is awful, but being forced to watch some really bizarre, gothic, unbelievable shows on streaming media. i.e.”Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen” is worse. I wish people would stop trying to emulate “The Squid Game” and give us something real.
I am glad that I was nudged to watch “Definition Please,” written, directed and produced by Sujata Day. The film premiered in August 2020 at the Bentonville Film Festival and in October 2020 at the Asian American International Film Festival. It started streaming on Netflix on January 21st. This is exactly the type of film everyone should watch. Especially Indian Americans who are programmed to sweep unpleasant issues under the carpet.
In that way it is a bit like “India Sweets and Spices.” It is a light hearted, coming of age, contemplative story of Monica Choudhary (played by Sujata Day). It’s perfect at 91 minutes and showcases a middle class Bengali family reunion at the first death anniversary of Jaya’s (Anna Khaja) husband. Monica is a local celebrity of sorts, having won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The champ is adorable as a moppet in curls but life seems to have passed her by. She is still tutoring children, living in a treehouse at her parents home, and deciding about accepting a research position in Cleveland. Her brother Sonny (Ritesh Rajan) is a muscular but quirky young man. Ogled by all local aunties for his physique, he is uncomfortable around family and friends.
The siblings play, laugh, cook, and share childhood memories. They seem to bond together to nurse a frail mother who appears to be slowly dying of fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism. (Her doctor who yells at the kids to be Ram and Laxman or Zoya and Farhan is hilarious!)
Monica is pensive but Sonny is out there. He is laughing and popping a soda at a local grocery store before paying for it (I had to curb the impulse when I first moved to America and saw a Limca or Mangola). But the ability to suppress impulses does not stop here with Sonny. He has a major meltdown about “his name,” “his acceptance in the family,” “yoga,” “his sister’s amorous adventures” and “salt.” It is a very real and poignant depiction of mental illness by Sujata Day in her brilliant directorial debut.
In Sonny’s case he is struggling with bipolar personality disorder. This requires lifelong psychotherapy and medication. But before therapeutic intervention, this vulnerable young man wants to be accepted by his family. It is not kosher for parents to fudge illness in a last ditch effort to keep the family together but to seek professional help. Then no one has to play the sad song: “Aami haari getche…” Ritesh Rajan with his smoldering dark eyes and buff body is very convincing in his role.
I loved the parts where the brother (dada) gives his baby sister the last mango piece. (A constant bone of contention at Indian dinner tables), takes blame for her butter-finger escapades, and lets her win at carrom and high jumps. All of us have known sweet teddy bears like relatives who transform in seconds into Mr. Hyde personas and are impossible to live with. We can’t live with them and sometimes it consumes the whole household to live with or without them.
The directorial flair showing Monica sorting through her thoughts by painting a gorgeous landscape, smoking a bit of cannabis, and listening to her dad (baba’s) favorite Jagjit Singh ghazal: Jhuki jhuki si nazar, beqarar hai to nahi… was awesome.
Another bright spot in the film is the effervescent camaraderie between Monica and her bestie Krista (Lalaine, who is as irrepressible as Miranda Sanchez in “Lizzie McGuire”). Their reference to short muscular Australian marsupials, Wombats, is warm and heartening, like the “just because” floral bouquet.
I learned a few words from the spelling bee champion. I loved ‘cabotinage,’ and can’t wait to use it. But the one Sujata Day so ‘insouciantly’ flourished was not ‘prosopopeia’ but ‘callipygian.’ There’s a lot of that to go around. With classic Indian traits of decorating their homes with variegated framed pictures of gods, painted pots, Japanese dolls, endless rounds of chai tea and addiction to restaurant bread, the movie works.
I was overjoyed by Monica protecting her student Payal (Maya Kapoor) from her overbearing mother Mrs. Gandhi (Meera Simhan) and the school bullies. We have all been there! “Definition Please” is all in all just wonderful. I will watch it again with my family. You should too.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published many poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.