Welcome back to my (Kate Anderson-Song’s) Film/TV Review Corner. Today we’re talking about Sujata Day’s debut indie feature, Definition Please, a charismatic Indian-American family drama about growing up-and-out of expectations and reshaping relationships.
The story follows Monica Chowdry, played by writer-director Sujata Day, who, after reaching the high of winning the national spelling bee in 4th grade, is now an adult struggling with her expectations to “overachieve” (*wink wink*)—which push against her small at-home life taking care of her widowed mother (Anna Khaja), tutoring local kids, and hanging out with her childhood best friend (Lalaine). Yet, when she’s offered the chance to move forward with her own bigger dreams, she hesitates to take the leap. Throughout this warm drama, the complex family dynamics, especially her strained relationship with her older brother (Ritesh Rajan), are revealed to be puzzle pieces keeping her grounded in this smaller life.
Known for her role on Insecure, Day steps into the character of Monica with ease and groundedness, moving without fanfare through the many different dynamics of her life. Standout moments of chemistry can be seen with her best friend (Lalaine), who brings realistic humor and friendship into the foreground, and her brother (Ritesh Rajan), who highlights the tension between childhood selves and adult selves and displays a compelling performance of wide-swinging emotions, while upholding a playfulness that keeps their sibling relationship believably youthful. Her brother’s experience with bipolar disorder also opens up important and often untouched conversations around mental health within Asian communities and the effects that mental health can have within families (extra relevant for May, which is not only AAPI Heritage Month, but also Mental Health Awareness Month in the US).
The comedic waves that surface in the face of the heavier drama, and the almost episodic pacing between different scenes/locations allow you to really settle into Monica’s life. You can’t help being drawn to these characters, not because they are infinitely good or larger than life, but because of how truly life-sized they are. The audience is walking, sitting, and experiencing the usually hidden everyday tensions that build up to create the messy and complicated snapshot of the Chowdry’s true lives.
With elements of Bollywood classics, soap operas, indie coming-of-age tales, and TV comedy that blend with well-known tropes of strain between 1st generation and 2nd generation experiences, and struggles with familial expectation, it is clear that Sujata Day knows exactly what the rules and conventions are – and exactly how she wants to blend and reshape them. She’s pulled the familiar into this microscopic vision with specificity and ease so that the Chowdry’s feel real in their complexity and their levity. Definition Please is a slice-of-life journey of reconciliation and redefining yourself within your family and your community that leans into a truth that feels almost too obvious: we all have unique stories that are important to share, because it is within these specific stories that we get to relate to being human.
For more on this film and on Sujata Day, check out our interview with Sujata Day in this issue (May II issue). Definition Please is currently doing the film festival circuit, and more information about the production and where to view it/how to book a screening can be found at www.SujataDay.com/Definition-Please.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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