Turns out love and hookup seekers aren’t the only ones who fib online. In the winning indie rom-com “7 Days,” two mothers gin up glowing profiles for their children on an Indian marriage website. After a decidedly arid date at a drought-dried reservoir, Ravi and Rita wind up at her rental home. Each of them stands within feet of the other, on the phone reporting how brilliantly the date went to their inquisitive mothers. It comes as no surprise (romantic comedy or otherwise) that when Ravi meets Rita, the two realize quickly that maintaining those lies isn’t worth it. At least, keeping up the ruse between them isn’t sustainable.
Karan Soni portrays Ravi, a guy who has many of the qualities his mother touted: a good cook, very bright, loyal and youngest of three boys, but in a combination that makes for a spectacularly uptight mama’s boy. Geraldine Viswanathan proves deadpan deft as Rita, who is far from the “traditional” Indian woman her mother has marketed.
Written by director Roshan Sethi and Soni, the comedy wastes little time confirming that Rita and Ravi are not a match made in the heavens. That out of the way, “7 Days” — which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival — goes cleverly, enjoyably about its business teasing Ravi and Rita’s differences and suggesting with wit and patience that their anti-chemistry might just make for the truest kind of connection.
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When Ravi overhears Rita on the phone, the carnal conversation she is having stiffens his resolve to get the heck out of Dodge. Her frank talk and a sex toy on the edge of her bathroom sink suggest she is not the “traditional girl” offered up by her mom. Indeed, the affair she has been engaged in has hit a quarantine roadblock. Rita agrees to the matchmaking dates her mother devises for a purely practical purpose. If that reason seems a little mercenary, it won’t after Rita’s mother says on the phone, “I hope you didn’t show him the real you. He can’t love that one.”
Of course, Ravi doesn’t leave. He stands near the door a few times, his leather pack strapped on his back, but he can’t leave. And not because of the tug of romance. The movie opens with signs of the coronavirus: Ravi being Ravi, he was already adhering to safety protocols. Now the pandemic is arriving in larger and larger waves. His every escape route is cut off. All of a sudden, the “traditional kids” are shacking up, sort of.
While Rita pretends (badly) to be the straightlaced Indian girl, her house tells a different story. It’s rife with signs that she is pursuing her own eclectic course: Western tchotchkes, ceramic horses, vintage kitchen canisters and trays with farmland motifs. In a well-timed visual poke, a few of those items feature roosters. (Her messy, textured home is the work of Ashley and Megan Fenton.) In Rita’s bedroom sits a slew of canvases turned toward the wall. When Ravi asks what about the paintings, she tells him each is a painting of a vagina. And not, she adds, ones that are all sweetness and flower petals but images that would confirm Freudian anxieties. Ravi looks like he’s about to faint. But then, he often looks dazed and confused.
Forced to be one another’s only company, they do what presumptive couples so often do in rom-coms: They bicker; they warm to each other. There’s something wonderfully Felix Unger about Ravi. And Rita’s satisfyingly messy. He’s repressed — and lonesome. She’s carnally knowing — and increasingly worried about the status of her clandestine relationship. The film takes its sweet time posing whether they can make a couple — odd, or otherwise.
“7 Days” nods — sometimes subtly, other times obviously — to 2017’s terrific romantic comedy “The Big Sick.” And not just because it depicts the expectations of South Asian parents. With its pandemic theme, this movie also wrestles with the feelings that come when faced with illness — although one wonders how differently the filmmakers would have dealt with the pandemic if the Delta variant had been raging through India during production.
Throughout their non-courtship, Rita and Ravi tango with their mothers’ belief in the rightness of arranged marriages. “7 Days” begins and concludes with interviews with actual couples whose marriages were arranged. How this footage works before and after Rita and Ravi’s sojourn has its own pleasing, thought-provoking payoffs.
Each time the script could take a trite turn, it twists, rebuffing any easy magic. The dinner they make together is not perfect. The stand-up routine he’s been dying to do all his life has the asset of vulnerability but lacks the timing. She’d be within her rights to heckle. The apotheosis of their differences comes when he stands holding two pots ready to clang them in honor of health-care workers and she storms out of the house into the shuttered world on a fool-for-love errand without a mask.
In the future, audiences may tire of movies about COVID-19. For the moment, however, “7 Days” arrives as a funny, modest charmer. What will or won’t become of Rita and Ravi is left for audiences to imagine. No matter what, they have been unmasked, literally and romantically.