New Movie Brings The Romantic Comedy To Life With A Desi Flair
The new Netflix movie wedding season explores how ancient South Asian traditions play into modern dating culture.
Indian-Australian actress Pallavi Sharda has had a global career, spanning India, Australia, UK and USA. In his latest film, the Netflix romantic comedy wedding seasonshe and her co-star Suraj Sharma (life of Pi) navigate the complicated sport of modern dating amid the intrusive (but well-meaning) expectations of their parents.
Despite her success, Sharda never thought she could play the lead role in a Hollywood movie.
“Australia is good at fostering aspirations, but those dreams should be able to blossom beyond the classroom,” she told Junkee. “To be brown, [there has] been a warning as to what I can aspire to.
A traditional approach to modern dating
In Wedding Season, Sharda plays Asha, a career-driven woman who leaves a lucrative banking career to pursue microfinance. The only thing missing according to his parents? A husband. After a failed engagement, her parents create a fake dating profile, through which she meets Ravi, an MIT dropout turned international DJ, whose parents undertake a similar scheme. What unfolds is a cultural exploration facilitated by a familiar trope.
“Although it is much more than that, wedding season breaks down the stigma of what an arranged marriage looks like in today’s diasporic communities – it’s basically an introduction,” says Sharda.
Introductions are like blind dates, with matches often found by friends and the community, and sometimes requiring parental verification and approval beforehand. If the match is successful, a rapid seduction process takes place, followed by marriage. This approach, still present today, is also featured in the popular Netflix show Indian Matchmaking.
Long before dating apps entered the Western world, South Asian communities used online websites to find suitable partners, including shaadi.com, tamilmatrimony.com and singlemuslim.com. In particular, these websites helped subsets of the community who had particular requirements regarding region, language, religion, education, and occupation.
“A biodata is like a resume but for dating – kinda like Hinge, but your parents do it for you. Like Acha [in Wedding Season], I would be quite disappointed if this happened without my approval! Sharda said.
A Desi twist on the Rom-Com
A recent trend we see on screen is to apply a non-dominant lens to stereotypical narratives in an effort to diversify stories.
“Other Netflix shows such as Bridgerton and I have never go a long way in connecting people to the experiences of a migrant family and normalizing their experience instead of “altering” them, says Sharda.
Romantic comedies, affectionately called rom-coms, were notorious in the 1990s and early 2000s, from When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones Diary at 10 things i hate about you. What enabled their prevalence was the way they centered the universal desire to be loved and the blending of contextualized fantasies into daily life. What also tied Hollywood movies in this era were the white and straight stories that featured actors like Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Meg Ryan, Reese Witherspoon and Cameron Diaz. Despite the predictable storylines, the genre is experiencing something of a resurgence, recapturing familiar relationship dynamics and hurdles, while addressing the underrepresentation of minorities in Western cinema.
Like box office success boobies rich asian and even more recently, Joel Kim Booster’s queer Pride and Prejudice adaptation Fire Island, the displacement is not symbolic; often the entire main cast or main couple of a minority group who have already been ostracized. According to Sharda, wedding season joins this new wave of rom-coms.
“wedding season employs the tropes of a romantic comedy, but it’s set in a different cultural milieu than we’re used to – it’s both unique and universal, which is why I think audiences love it,” says -she.
However, representation has to be more than a matter of visibility: it’s the intricacies infused into the dialogue, story arcs, and character development that allow these films to feel authentic and engage audiences. wedding season, friction and shame stemming from community and family expectations for introduced, interracial and interfaith unions, mean that it is not always easy to “keep calm and move on”. (Although Asha’s brother-in-law’s well-meaning attempts to adopt South Asian customs provided good comic fodder.)
“Cultural consultants and script advisors are important in bridging the cultural divide, in moving from diversity optics to diversity actualization,” says Sharda.
“In a sense, there is a very strong co-animation with the double inheritance, but it is invisible. I hope people recognize me as Indo-Australian in the film. My lived experience has an impact on the work I do in each territory and it is not always obvious.
Paving the way for future stories
For actors who sit outside the archetype white tan aesthetic Illustrated by Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie, the path to a local or international career is not linear. For Sharda, she knew she wanted to tell stories, and Bollywood came knocking before the local industry recognized her talent.
There is, however, a growing cohort of homegrown talent making their mark in the United States, including Geraldine Viswanathan (miracle workers), Aisha Dee (The fat guy), Charlotte Nicdao (mythical quest), Madeleine Madden (The wheel of time), Chris Pang (boobies rich asian), Jordan Rodrigues (lady bird), and Ronnie Chieng (The Daily show).
“There are so many actors coming from Australia to Hollywood right now; [but] the route to get to America from Australia was not available to non-white actors for a very long time,” Sharda points out.
“I have crossed a number of ceilings and had many difficult conversations as a young brunette and actress. I hope my convoluted journey will pave the way for those who wish to pursue a career in the arts.
Since working in Bollywood, Sharda has added a number of credits to her name including that of Gurinder Chadha. Beecham Houselive action anime series Tom & Jerry: The Movie and locally produced Foxtel drama The Twelve.
“Being one of the few South Asian women to foray into the field; I had to rely on my intuition, my faith and my experience. Although it was difficult, I feel lucky that my trip to India prepared me for all future challenges,” says Sharda.
The opportunity that comes with Sharda’s global experience, as well as working on culturally specific material, is the skills and experience to influence local industry practices when it comes to working with a distribution diverse as well as bringing nuance to South Asian roles and portrayals. .
Over the past 10 years, there have been films that have used the romantic comedy trope as a vehicle to explore culture, including Osamah Sami Ali’s weddingby Miranda Tapesell upscale wedding, as good as An Indian, featuring Sharda herself.
With basic shows like Neighbors having come to an end and the plethora of streaming services looking to invest in locally produced content, there is room to create content that showcases Australia as it really is.
“I am happy to be able to give voice to what it means to be a global South Asian woman and to break down the stereotypes that exist,” says Sharda. “Each role takes that a little further.”
wedding season is streaming on Netflix now.
Vyshnavee Wijekumar is a freelance writer and cultural critic. She is a board member of the Melbourne Women in Film Festival and a fortnightly film critic for Triple R Breakfasters. She was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and has lived there since she was two years old. You can follow her on Twitter @vylenwife.