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Indian Fish in American Waters

The familiar theme of the wide cultural abyss between Indians who are FOBs (fresh off the boat) and American born provides the premise for frosh scripter-helmer Manish Gupta's amiable if undistinguished romantic comedy. May head out to cable waters, and do especially swimmingly in Indian markets.

With: Raj Vasudeva, Shweta Malhotra, Saumya Kumar Bhatnagar, Puja Lalmalani. (English, Hindi dialogue)

The familiar theme of the wide cultural abyss between Indians who are FOBs (fresh off the boat) and ABCDs (American born confused desis [countrymen]) provides the premise for frosh scripter-helmer Manish Gupta’s amiable if undistinguished romantic comedy, “Indian Fish in American Waters.” Modestly conceived characters and situations barely fall within the competence of its likeably amateur thesps, but wide range of secondary characters nicely flesh out slender boy-meets-girl story. “Fish” may head out to cable waters, and do especially swimmingly in Indian markets.

Fresh off the plane hero Naveen (Raj Vasudeva) is introduced in short order to New York City through meeting a smiling, smarmy, underhanded computer firm head (“Call me Bobby”), two male and one female housemates and a spectacularly Goth sexy neighbor. Possessed of a wry sense of humor, Naveen does not let any of this faze him (though the vamp neighbor, incongruously appearing with his nagging mother, figures prominently in his nightmares).

FOB Naveen falls hard for ABCD Megha (Shweta Malhotra) who decides to date him despite dire warnings from her actress-wannabe best friend (Puja Lalmalani). It’s the friend’s bathroom Oscar acceptance speech “for brown people everywhere” and her dramatic monologue when she pretends to be pregnant using Tupperware as her stomach for a scene she’s rehearsing that provide some of pic’s funniest moments.

Lovers wander about New York in appropriate musical montages, and all goes well until Naveen’s exploitative boss Bobby (Saumya Kumar Bhatnagar), who has his own plans for Megha, spreads dastardly lies, inventing a traditional wife and children in India anxiously awaiting Naveen’s return.

Virtually everyone in the cast enacts some odd variation on cultural adaptation or the lack thereof. Naveen’s FOB sidekicks, a couple of computer nerds, are homegrown oddballs addicted to cricket and telekinesis. Megha’s rapping, black-talking brother, almost a cliche these days, maintains a certain amused distance from his persona and is accepted by the family with affectionate tolerance.

Megha, as well as being a painter and an ad woman, is also a closet standup comedian specializing in ethnic caricature: She treats her family to a trio of impersonations, a black “sista,” a ditzy Valley girl and a breathlessly anxious-to-please desi. Actress Malhotra handles these quasi-improvisational moments with a verve unfortunately lacking in her delivery of pic’s rather stilted “witty” dialogue.

Tech credits are adequate, except for lame hip-hop sampling on score.

Indian Fish in American Waters

Production: A Manish Gupta film. Executive producers, Chandra Karnati, Devendra Gupta, Jagan Yedida, Malviak Gupta, Lakshmi Damodar, Om Gupta. Directed, written, edited by Manish Gupta.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Tim Neylor; art director, Tushar Unadkat; sound, Abdulai Diallo; title animation, Firefly Entertainment. Reviewed at Indian Diaspora Film Festival, New York, Nov. 7, 2003. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Raj Vasudeva, Shweta Malhotra, Saumya Kumar Bhatnagar, Puja Lalmalani. (English, Hindi dialogue)

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