Somewhere in her switch from documaking to fiction filmmaking, Shundell Prasad seems to have lost touch with clarity: “Festival of Lights,” about a Guyanese mother and daughter residing in America, leapfrogs through time, barely acknowledging its gaping narrative holes. Complex story twists unfold to confusing effect, while characters angrily toss cliches at one another and revelations multiply rather than resolve murky plot developments. Thesps, wedged into one-dimensional roles without backstories, cannot fill in the blanks. Compared with the nuanced immigrant dramas of Ramin Bahrani, for one, Prasad’s meller, now in limited release, registers as shrill and simplistic.
Meena (Ritu Singh Pande), forced to leave her husband (Jimi Mistry) in Guyana, lives in Gotham with reluctant relatives, working as a cleaning lady for a large company. Cut to many years later: Meena, now a glamorous businesswoman, has married her rich boss (Aidan Quinn). Her rebellious teenage offspring, Reshma (Melinda Shankar), sporting remarkably slutty clothes, acts out her sense of betrayal, yearning for her absent biological father and faraway homeland. Only by abandoning corrupt Western ways and reconnecting with her Indo-Guyanese roots can Reshma find happiness.