My Four Samosas Experience
A Review of the Tribeca-Award-Winning South Asian Film
Naturally, my readers expect more than just a review. My li’l journey here contains mild spoilers but nothing plot-critical. Enjoy.
Though it’s a bit precarious to write a review of a feature film when you know 15 people involved in its production, I welcome the challenge, as it’s the embodiment of the tightrope I like to walk, pulled on one arm by my desire to tell the unabashed truth and pulled on the other by my desire to get invited to parties.
Or at least moderate panels, which is what I did last Thursday night at the screening in Cerritos, California, mere miles from the film’s setting of Artesia. I was honored when Director Ravi Kapoor asked me to host the Q&A for himself (director, producer, writer, actor), Venk Potula (producer, writer, lead actor), and actors Sonal Shah and Karan Soni.
Maxed Out the Tags (“That’s a lot of potatoes!”)
What makes this easier is Four Samosas is, in myriad ways, the Desi movie for which I’ve been waiting.
Since I walk through this world more defined by my nationality than my ethnicity (or, at least, such is my self-perception), I found it refreshing to watch a story in which the characters happened to be Indian. As it’s been said, “that which is most personal is most general,” so the fact that this heist-in-the-name-of-love tale could be about anybody from any race is precisely its charm.
And with that, here’s what I thought about the flick after watching it twice (because Kapoor sent me a link so I could write this review). I evaluate all video content in four buckets: concept, writing, acting, production. Here goes.
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The plot and themes are straightforward, as conveyed by the logline:
An unmotivated South Asian American rapper, along with three other first time thieves,
plans a heist on a grocery store owned by his ex-girlfriend's father
in order to steal her wedding diamonds and disrupt her pending engagement.
As such, the concept doesn’t really help or hurt. To risk sounding tautological, it is what it is. The reviews have been good (including a shining one by The New York Times), but if I had to review the reviews, a consistent theme is that, as Potula put it to me after the Q&A, some just didn’t get it.
Allow me to clarify: the film is a farce. As Kapoor has stated, it’s a clown show. The humor results from the exaggerated importance of each plot point, much like any other farcical story… the best-in-class example being Rat Race. If you don’t understand this, then I don’t really know what qualifies you to be a reviewer.
The script, written by Kapoor, is very good. During the aforementioned Q&A, the cast heaped praise on Kapoor, who apparently wrote most of the witty dialogue. Of course, dialogue is one subset of the writing process: as important is how the plot unfurls.
Is the three-part screenplay structure (a fancy way of saying “beginning-middle-end”) clear?
Do the twists and turns make sense?
Is there an arc to the characters’ development, i.e., do they land in a different place from where they began?
Yes, yes, and yes. Spotify Wrapped just revealed to me the unsurprising fact that my most listened-to podcast of 2022 has been The Rewatchables, which is The Ringer’s take on movies they’ve seen a million times. The hosts are not big fans of voiceover, as they feel it’s a crutch. It is a hack but this doesn’t mean it’s hackneyed. The narration by the lead character, Vinny (played by Venk), was an organic fit, as were the cue cards that told you what was going on. Indeed, Venk literally states the theme: it’s about “finding your crew.” I liked that, because while romantic love has been done so many times, platonic love oftentimes falls by the wayside. I enjoyed this resurrection. And I admired the family-friendly nature; there was no gratuitous swearing, which really wouldn’t have added jackshit and would’ve been a goddam waste of everyone’s time.
As a writer, I did see a few potential punch-ups:
If Karan Soni’s character is the “GOAT of goat shit,” couldn’t he also be the shit, too? “I’m the shit. And the GOAT. Of goat shit.”
I was a bit confused as to whether Venk’s rhymes are supposed to be good. In (500) Days of Summer, the writers showcase their superior chops by what Joseph Gordon-Levitt develops as a greeting card copy writer. One of Four Samosas’ EPs is Utkarsh Ambudkar and I know my dude has mad skills, yo. That said, Venk’s got flow: he can sing and dance. And his tribute song (written by Ravi’s son, Milan) is an earworm I’ve been overjoyed to have clanging around in my brain this past week.
I didn’t totally love the post-scripts. Not sure how much they added, though I rewatched one of my favorite ’90s comedies, Austin Powers, and I’m not sure the tags there did much heavy lifting, either. I did love Samrat Chakraborty’s Bollywood portrayal, though.
And to the extent that the talent competition was an homage to Old School, I would’ve liked to have seen an Easter Egg (unless there was one I missed).
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m available for hire, Kapoor.
If I have one beef, it’s the title. I love a good title. Sujata Day (who dazzles, as always, in a tertiary role) named her first feature Definition Please. Given it’s about a spelling bee and your identity upon your homecoming, this was a bull’s eye. I was extremely impressed by Agam Darshi’s Donkeyhead, but as I told her directly, I don’t adore the title. It’s the same here: I get why “four,” but why “samosas”?
Somebody asked this during the Q&A, but Kapoor said his original title was “Four Laddoos” until he realized too few non-South Asians knew what laddoos are. I surmised that perhaps the samosa represents change. It is a triangle, after all. That’s a math joke.
Not that Sonal Shah’s character would get that… I loved the subtlety of how she got wrong the calculation of how many combinations an eight-digit, ten-digit keypad password has. There are far more than 40,320. (It’s 10^8.)
The casting was spot-on. Kapoor revealed that all but one role was cast sans auditions. His wife, Meera Simhan, shined in her role as Vinny’s Mom, as did his daughter, Maya, who played Vinny’s quirky cousin.
Sonal Shah made me laugh so damn hard; this role allowed her to display her talents so well. It was cool to see her onscreen after I’d just seen her crush onstage as the lead in Untitled Baby Play.
The lead, Venk Potula, is an all-around super talented man, and this three-way exchange was the heart of our Zoom interview…
What happens when you get three funny guys together.
Rajiv: It’s a high compliment, and you carry it off, Venk, extremely well —
Venk: Thank you so much.
Rajiv: — Yeah, I was just really taken in by your character. It’s touching, it’s impressive; like I said, it’s funny. It’s hard to do all those things, and whenever I write a solo show, I’m thinking about those things: insightful, poignant, funny…. It’s hard to do all of those —
Venk: Which, by the way, you do really well. I saw your show the first time, like, I can’t remember where it was but it was at a theater; it was packed and actually Varun Vishwanath [editor on Kapoor’s first feature] had sat next to me…. And we saw that show together and it was brilliant, so clearly, you do know what you’re talking about.
Rajiv: Awww… thanks, man, that means a lot to me. That really means a lot. I don’t know how to ask this question without offending you, because that’s usually what I do when people compliment me: I just offend them, because I’m so not used to the compliments that it just throws me off. What did it mean — because I’m a short guy — what did it mean to have the characteristics you have? Now, you have hair; I’m pretty upset about that and you’re rubbing it in by even having facial hair; you’re really spiking the football here — but did it say something that you’re, look, you’re darker-complected? You don’t see that a lot, even in our… especially in our [community]: we’re very colorist. And I was like, “Damn, hell YEAH, we got not just a South Asian guy, we got like a dark guy up there, and honestly, I don’t know how to ask that question but I did wanna ask it because it almost brought a tear to my eye. I was like, “This is what we need.”
Venk: Wow. Well, that means a lot, and I’ve mentioned it to Ravi before, but that’s always been a big part of, I feel, part of the challenge and I find that, even within South Asian roles, we often see… I mean, we can probably count on our hand how many darker-skinned people here in the diaspora are actors…. and we often get compared to the lighter-skinned counterparts and oftentimes, too, in terms of Hollywood, they tend to cast the Brown, light-skinned version of White people. And South Indians, first of all, we just don’t look like that. We’re not Aryan, so we don’t have that in us but we still are just as, you know, WE’RE STILL HERE.
Ravi: There are millions of them! You can’t get rid of them!
Venk: Yeah, yeah, I know!
Rajiv: The Aryans tried but the Dravidians hung in there, man.
Venk: Yeah, the Dravidians hung in there, man. You know what I mean?
Rajiv: I thought they debunked that whole theory. I thought that was gone…
Venk: We’re gonna figure it out once and for all on this call what actually happened.
Rajiv: Only I could take a lighthearted, 80-minute comedy and turn it into this.
Venk: I don’t know…. Yeah, what I really appreciate, when Ravi was considering me, is that it wasn’t about those things. But for me… I had an acting teacher that said, “You wear your life on your face.” And I really resonated with that: those experiences, you know, the colorism… I’m not gonna get into all the stories, but there is an added layer there* about not being seen — especially South Asian characters — as leading men in that type of way and I’m so happy… Ravi often says that I’m not the traditional leading man and I love that because I never find the traditional guys to be any more interesting. The characters and the actors I always like are the unconventional ones because they brought something different to the table, so I hope to do the same thing in the next things that I hopefully get the chance to be a part of.
Ravi: And it was interesting: the whole thing about the colorism that exists in our community and using Venk in the film to play the lead, as well. Some people were like, “Maybe you should talk about it in the film. It should be, like, an issue in the film, like, he brings it up,” and for me —.
Rajiv: I’m so glad you didn’t.
Ravi: Yeah, me, too, and I think you’re better off serving that issue by not talking about it and in some ways normalizing the fact that he is just our leading man and he deserves to be our leading man and he deserves to be fawned-upon and regarded as a sex symbol just because of who he is.
Venk: I don’t know about that…
Rajiv: I think he’s hitting on you pretty hard. I think you just got #MeToo’d.
*An added layer of melanin, amirite?
I let that joke go, because we might’ve lost the seriousness of this discussion. Besides, I got a chance to make up for it when I asked a similar question in front of the crowd.
That prompted Karan Soni (who smashes his part, per yoozh) to ask, “Is this a roast? My God.”
The brilliance of Soni’s question was that it served as a means and an end, because it got a big laugh and then set me up to say, “I mean, Venk’s face kinda looks like it got roasted.” And in this day and age of cancellation, we were all relieved when that got a hysterical response from the crowd.
It was amazing that we all took such a serious topic and not only got to the root of the matter but also got a chance to laugh at ourselves.
This rare quality speaks to the camaraderie and good-naturedness of this cast (and the audience it attracts).
Last Thursday Night.
The one auditioned role went to Sharmita Bhattacharya, whom I’ve now seen in two features, the other being Andrew de Burgh’s The Bestowal. I wanna be careful of framing this comment, following our discussion above of appearances, but it’s a compliment so here goes: I’ve seen my fair share of pretty Brown girls who can’t act; however, Bhattacharya is not only beautiful but also hilariously charming. Or charmingly hilarious. Or both.
Nir was the only person I don’t know IRL, but he more than held his own amongst this gifted cast. I loved his Godfather impression. And the man makes a good-looking woman. Fortunately funnier than it is sexist, it reminds me of NFL Quarterbacks as Women.
My Cincinnati Bengals’ QB is a smoke show.
I’ve long said Napoleon Dynamite is the best Wes Anderson film in the same way that Boyz n The Hood is the best Spike Lee film.
I have a love-hate relationship with Director Wes Anderson’s movies. I practically fell asleep during The Royal Tenenbaums. Rushmore has two funny lines in it. It took my wife and me three sittings to wade our way through The French Dispatch. The main reason I liked The Grand Budapest Hotel was due to its unusually fast pacing.
Where Anderson excels (more than anyone else, I’d purport) is the beauty of his movies. They’re true motion pictures. Kapoor told us he didn’t necessarily set out to be the Indian Wes Anderson, or as I improvised, “our East Anderson”?
But Kapoor expressed that he admires flicks that are more theatrical than realistic. That much was obvious: his world-building was breathtaking. He took the mundane Pioneer Blvd. in Artesia and made it look like a place you’d actually wanna go. I wouldn’t say I have a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles’ Little India: for me, there’s nothing to love and nothing to hate. I’d characterize it more as like/dislike. I like and support my friends who have businesses there and I like that it’s quite pristine in comparison to other Little Indias in America. But I dislike the food; I’m still stunned how difficult it is to find really good Indian food in LA. Anyone who’s visited its equivalents in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York (let alone the Mecca: Edison, NJ), knows that ours can’t hold a diya to those. And yet, in Kapoor’s depiction, I found myself craving some chana-chana-chana chaat. (And if any Artesian small business owners wanna prove me wrong, invite me down and give it a… chaat.)
Kapoor is clearly an apt director. Years ago, my Mom made the point that direction can refer to whether a piece “has direction,” as in, you know where you’re going. And here, you do.
I love the set and costume designs. Shivani Thakkar’s choreography is on-point. I like that Kapoor shot it in 4x3 instead of 16x9. There are cool, elusive tricks he plays, like when “Sunny and Saleem” is said at the same time that we see the similarly alliterative “Sweets and Snacks” sign. Was this intentional? With someone as skillful as Kapoor, you give him the benefit of the doubt.
There are excruciatingly few comedies that are funny all the way to the end. And there are even fewer funny comedy sequels.
Dramas are about people in danger; comedies are about people in trouble. Danger’s not funny. But trouble is.
Moreover, dramas are about the ending. Comedies? The plot is almost incidental. So, after a while, the jig is up. We get it. In that vein, the 40+ minutes are positively crackling. Sharp, witty, and above all else, precise. It’s difficult to sustain due to the Tarantino-esque way in which the plot is laid out: you find out in the first scene that the heist has taken place. We catch up with it at the film’s midpoint… and that’s good, because there’s a target at which to aim. Again, we know where we’re going, it… has direction.
I can speak to this, because I’ve had some standup sets like it: you come out the gate swinging, and while your jokes remain good, the electricity in the room just isn’t the same. Similarly, the energy dips a bit after the heist. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Office Space is one of my all-time favorites but it faces the same issue: now that we’ve laid out a narrative problem, (how) does the hero get what he wants? Tying up those loose ends is not easy. In fact, this mirrored our Zoom interview above: we started out by laughing a lot but then ended up in this very deep conversation about colorism, race, representation, and what it all means. I pointed out that all of my conversations follow the same pattern…
Lots of laughs up-top, but now that that’s done and we’re emotionally invested in each other, what’s gonna happen to you?
Fortunately, we’re in at this point. And Kapoor’s running time of 80 minutes is perfect. I felt so much for Vinny and I was rooting for him all the way. Does the heist work? Does he get the woman of his dreams? Does he find some motivation or does he remain aloof? (Or aloo? Since he’s a samosas? Get it? Anyone? This thing on?) You’ll have to go to the theater or tune in on Amazon or iTunes to find out… and I highly recommend you do. Personally, I was bummed to miss the LA premiere (and The Salon event), but it was to raise some serious funds for Akshaya Patra down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, so at least it was for a good cause.
And stay tuned to my YouTube and Instagram for my interview with Ravi and Venk.
Congratulations to Milan and Sanjay at Marginal Media and thanks to both IFC Films for your warm support and to my friends, Executive Producer Smita Bagla and her husband Gunjan Bagla, for hosting us at for the post-screening party at The Cheesecake Factory, which might or might not have served samosas.
Rajiv, Ravi, Venk, Sonal, Karan.
Tomatometer (at the time of writing): 67%.
Audience Score: 100%.
My Score: 78%.
Rajiv Satyal is a comic and writer. He resides 27 miles from Artesia, CA.
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