According to the press notes for comedy Four Samosas, actor/writer/director Ravi Kapoor was struggling to figure out what his next directorial project was going to be after 2015’s Miss India America. His impulse was to go bigger, turning into something unauthentic to who he is. Instead, he went in the opposite direction, switching to something far smaller and more insular. Four Samosas is the resultant project, having its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2022, a comedy that centers on an Indian-American in Artesia, California, that area’s “Little India.” By going smaller, Kapoor invites audiences to go on a low-stakes, big emotions journey which provides a chance for his community to shine in a story that’s universal in appeal and ideas.
It’s been three years since Vinny (Venk Potula) and Rina (Summer Bishil) broke up, yet it’s left him in a tailspin, unable to move forward creatively in any of his pursuits. When he finds out that Rina’s engaged to be married to his rival, Sanjay (Karan Soni), Vinny decides to ruin the wedding by stealing from Rina’s father and making it harder to afford the ceremony. Assembling a rap-tag group consisting of friend Zak (Nirvan Patnaik), investigative reporter Anjali (Sharmita Bhattacharya), and engineer Paru (Sonal Shah), the four set out to destroy any chances of the wedding happening and maybe gain a bit of financial gain for each of their fallen dreams. But this isn’t the movies and none of them are Danny Ocean, so things don’t go entirely to plan.
Kapoor’s Four Samosas is a pretty lo-fi affair, something which aids in elevating the overall experience. There’s no pretention in the production design, costuming, or locations, making the entire fictional tale immersive because it feels authentic through and through — it’s shot on location in Artesia, is supported by local businesses, and even Vinny’s attire is basically a different colored “Artesia” athletic jersey. These details convey a sense of specificity, something which reminds a tad of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989), a film which is tied directly to a community. Kapoor’s film doesn’t explore racial inequity like Lee’s does, but it does tap into the various aspects that make Little India what it is: the people, the places, the culture, and the food. None of these things are treated as jokes, looked down upon, or mistreated; rather, Kapoor places the emphasis on the choices of the characters to create tension, hilarity, or, to balance the comedy, a touch of despair. All of this is executed without sparing the humanity of the characters or by placing them into dire straits. Instead, Kapoor puts the characters, specifically Vinny, in a situation in which the once stalled individual takes action, however misguided, putting them on a path to affect change upon his life. Thankfully, the central cast of Potula, Patnaik, Bhattacharya, and Shah are capable of walking the line between the hyperreality of comedy and anchored reality so as to make their characters feel real and their arcs reasonable within.
For all that’s delightful about Four Samosas, there’s likely plenty more I didn’t understand either by reference, location, or dialogue due to the fact that Kapoor’s film is so specific to the Indian community. This isn’t a slight on the film at all. I’d liken the experience to Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite (2019), a film so specific to Korea that while I could understand the broader themes regarding the battle of the classes, the meanings of certain conversational elements, the significance of intentional meals, and other aspects were totally lost on me until The Cine-Men co-host and fellow critic Darryl Mansel (who spent time stationed in Korea) filled me in. With that greater knowledge, Bong’s film took on increased significance. In that way, I suspect that watch Four Samosas would become a stronger experience with a greater connection to the community from which both the film and Kapoor exists within. For instance, the title is a dual reference to the number in Vinny’s team (four), as well as the savory Indian fried food. That was easy enough to Google as Kapoor places that front and center, but what of the other things that are decidedly of the culture? Those require a guide to get you through in order to discover the riches within.
If you’re in the mood for a simple, no-frills comedic experience, Ravi Kapoor’s Four Samosas will hit the spot. The characters are grounded even when doing ridiculous things, enabling the tale to maintain a reasonable level of realism among the silliness. The catalyst is absolutely a cliché, but it’s executed with such a specific vision that it feels fresh and engaging. The comedy is natural, never trying too hard for laughter, allowing it to come from comical scenario or character reaction. More than all this, the cast is so obviously all-in, offering tactical restraint so as to never breach into caricature or stereotype. In the words of my people, if you’re in the mood for a little nosh, Four Samosas will satisfy.
Screening during the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
In theaters and on VOD December 2nd, 2022.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.