Miss India America (2015)
And the closing film for the 2015 Boston Asian American Film Festival is Miss India America, which is on a considerably different note from Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi and The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor.
Miss India America tells the tale of exactly the bitch just about every high achieving Asian American student hated in high school, Lily Prasad (Tiya Sarcar), a newly-graduated valedictorian who is ready to go to Harvard, become a brain surgeon, and marry her boyfriend Karim (Kunal Sharma). After a disagreement over what he wants to do with himself, Karim breaks up with Lily and starts dating the winner of the national Indian-American beauty contest. Unused to being anything but first in anything, Lily enlists the help of her friend Seema (Kosha Patel) and decides to enter the contest herself in the hopes of winning Karim’s heart back.
As an alumnus of JP Stevens High School in Edison, New Jersey, I’m all too familiar with the archetype Lily represented. JP Stevens is a severely overcrowded dump which was fortunate enough to wind up with a large population of high-achieving college-obsessed Asian-Americans who made the school look good by increasing the percentage of the student body to get accepted to Ivy League schools. Relative proximity to New York brings good things even to those that don’t really deserve it.
Some people, like Amy Chua, celebrate the archetypical Tiger Mom by basically saying, “Am I squashing my children’s capacity for individual thought? Maybe. But they’re getting better grades and playing at more Carnegie Hall concerts than your kids are, so I win.” Ravi Kapoor, writer and director of Miss India America, lampoons it. It quickly becomes clear that Lily, despite having mastered everything that it takes to get into Harvard, has a lot to learn about life in general. Lily hasn’t read a single poem her mother wrote, despite how well-known she was. Poetry has no relevance to getting into Harvard, and it doesn’t carry the glamour being a surgeon does.
Miss India America is absolutely the funniest movie I have seen in a long time. It could be because I was once an Indian-American high school student who managed to get into Cornell by the skin of my teeth, but I felt like the experience of the characters, particularly that of Seema, were very real to me. Miss India America took playful jabs at Indian-American values. One of the contestants Lily competed against was unable to do anything without her mother checking her horoscope. Another invented an inspirational story to bring tears to the eyes of judges.
If I were Kapoor, I probably would have taken things a step further. What if Karim decided he wanted to date a girl who wasn’t Indian at all in order to get away from all Lily represents? What if, despite all she did, Lily came home every day to see a new list of all the things she did to disappoint her parents? I think what I would do would edge the movie dangerously out of comedy territory, though.
I think Miss India America was a movie that did everything right. The characters were caricatures that were still real enough to me and the story was loads of fun. Of the features I’ve seen, Miss India America was the film I had the most fun with in BAAFF 2015.