A vivid, surprisingly accomplished version of the cross-cultural romantic comedies that regularly show up at Indian diaspora fests, Sarovar Banka's "A Decent Arrangement" reps a definite cut above average.

A vivid, surprisingly accomplished version of the cross-cultural romantic comedies that regularly show up at Indian diaspora fests, Sarovar Banka’s “A Decent Arrangement” reps a definite cut above average. Shot on Super 35 and accompanied by a magnificent score by Neel Murgai, the pic juxtaposes its American-born hero’s comical search for an Indian wife with an open-ended exploration of the wide streets and colorful byways of Chandigarh, the Le Corbusier-designed capital of Punjab. More “Darjeeling Limited” than typical Bollywood bride movie, Banka’s wry twist on cultural confusion will be best appreciated by festgoers.

Though born and raised in America, Ashok (Adam Laupus) decides to seek an Indian bride for reasons never entirely clear even to himself. In Chandigarh, the candidates are lined up and cross-referenced with ruthless efficiency by Ashok’s older cousin Preeti (award-showered actress Shabana Azmi, excellent here) and pored over and commented on by Preeti’s lively teenage daughter, Suriya (Shreya Sharma). But Ashok’s casual dress and laid-back approach fail to appeal to his status-minded prospective in-laws, and his unapologetic lack of ambition (or worse, his vague desire to become a “real” writer instead of penning ad copy) sabotages much of Preeti’s hard work on his behalf.

After a series of comic mismatches, Ashok finally meets a contender whose candor and cultural ambivalence echo his own. Amita (Diksha Basu), an attractive, well-educated modern woman in her late 20s, takes Ashok aside to tell him she is marrying purely to please her traditional parents, warning him that she wants nothing to do with love. The two prove compatible enough to become cautious friends, as shots of Ashok perched comfortably on the back of Amita’s motorbike attest — but hearts, flowers and sex are all conspicuously absent.

The arrangements proceed apace, Ashok’s parents arriving from America for the nuptials. But Ashok has met Lorie (Lethia Nall), a backpacking American who’s touring India not, she quickly assures him, for “enlightenment,” but simply to experience a society different from her own. With Lorie, Ashok discovers not an India filtered through anxiety over ethnic identity, but a panoply of sights and sounds that strike responsive chords within him.

Though Laupus and several of the other actors never completely inhabit their roles, their awkwardness convincingly reads as discomfort with an unfamiliar culture. Nevertheless, their non-pro style of thesping could pose a problem for distribs.

Amol Rathod’s cool-toned lensing captures the unique charm of Chandigarh’s sights, richly abetted by Murgai’s layered score, which incorporates many elements of classical Indian music.

A Decent Arrangement

U.S.-India

Production

A Kurm Event and Produ., Secret Pact production. Produced by Sarovar Banka. Co-producer, K.M. Das. Directed, written by Sarovar Banka.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 35), Amol Rathod; editor, Tom Quinn; music, Neel Murgai; art director, Priten Patil; costume designer, Roopa Sood; sound designer, Anita Kushwaha; casting, Avani Parikh, Gita Reddy. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Focus on World Cinema), Aug. 21, 2011. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Adam Laupus, Shabana Azmi, Lethia Nall, Diksha Basu, Shreya Sharma, Farid Currim, Navniit Nisshan, Vikram Kadapia. (English dialogue)
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