After bagging the best feature film award at the South Asian Film Festival in
New York, Tanuja Chandra`s first English language movie Hope And A Little
Sugar will hit Indian screens Friday.
Set in New York in the weeks before and after 9/11, the film stars Anupam Kher, Mahima Chaudhry, Suhasini Mulay, Vikram Chatwal, Ranjit Choudhary and Amit Sial.
The film about the romance between an aspiring Muslim photographer and a young married Sikh woman is a high voltage emotional drama where religion becomes the root cause of every problem.
Bike messenger Ali Siddiqui (Amit Sial) meets the beautiful Saloni (Mahima Chaudhry), a charismatic sweet shop owner who encourages his photography and becomes his muse.
Despite Ali`s secret and largely unrequited crush on Saloni, he develops a close friendship with her and her husband Harry (Vikram Chatwal). But their camaraderie gets a blow when terrorists attack the twin towers Sep 11, 2001.
Saloni`s father-in-law, a retired army colonel (Anupam Kher), is devastated by grief and directs his longstanding animosity towards Muslims at Ali, as the young man`s affections for Saloni grow increasingly evident.
However, the colonel`s wife (Suhasini Mulay) bravely tries to pacify, but she fails to calm down her husband who threatens to bring everything to a violent end.
Director Chandra, who started her career with a hit thriller like Dushman, hasn`t been able to please the box office lately. Her previous releases, Zindaggi Rocks and Film Star, couldn`t rock the box office.
She hopes to strike a chord with this emotional drama.
For too long now Bollywood has used foreign locales as exotic interlude of backgrounds for songs. In more recent times Indian films, even if helmed by NRI`s, have strived to be more authentic in their depiction of the rootless existence and a strong desire to connect with India of those who have chosen to live abroad.
Tanuja Chandra`s Hope and a Little Sugar goes further by showing us how a tragedy in your adopted country can hit you where it hurts most. The way it turns your life upside down, with grief disconnecting you from your loved ones, the hate it builds up and in the end how with a little hope, allows you to forgive and let go.
Hope and a Little Sugar manages to be much more than just a movie about Indians living abroad. It is about how tragedy forces each one to find his own way to overcome. This is a mature film and a sign that Chandra is ready to handle grand themes and to depict that grandness through the details of people`s lives.
She stays away from the stereotypes that could have so easily plagued this movie. Another wise choice is the toning down of the melodrama.
A story about a colonel dealing with the death of his son in the Sept 11, 2001 attacks is a trap for melodrama and sentiment to ram us with. Instead, Chandra trusts her story and her actors to carry the movie. The few emotional scenes work simply because Chandra allows the unspeakable raging emotions to build up to be released only at the right time for proper dramatic effect.
The film is set in New York with the Oberoi family living a happy life till the Sept 11 attacks claims their son Harry (Vikram Chatwal). The son`s wife Saloni (Mahima Chaudhary) befriends a young man Ali (Amit Sial) at first in a case of mistaken identity. He becomes close to the family. All changes when Saloni`s husband is killed in the 9/11 attack. The rest of the movie focuses on each characters struggle to cope with this loss.
The strongest point of this movie is Anupam Kher. He sinks his teeth into a complex role and manages to evoke empathy as a man struggling to cope with the loss of his son, his tenacious effort to find him even after everyone close to him has given up, be consumed with misplaced hatred and eventually after a horrific incident, come to be the point of forgiveness.
Mahima is ravishing and anchors her performance by not making her character, who is free spirited, into something of a bimbo.
Chandra must be commended for taking a tragedy and not exploiting it for sentiment or using it to dress some mindless fare in serious garb. The tragedy doesn`t just cast a shadow on the lives, it creeps into the soul and makes the characters question their reasons for existence.
She also deftly handles the way Indians abroad choose to surround themselves with trinkets and other items that remind them of their true home. On Saloni`s bedroom wall is displayed a shawl that looks like it was made in Nagaland or Northeast India.
It is these objects and pieces, family, friends and sometimes hope that we all need to face even the most insurmountable challenges that hatred and ignorance will almost surely thrown our way. For striving to be honest and respecting our intelligence, Hope and a Little Sugar is worth watching.