Tagcoming of age

Abbey Lay – Lead Us Not

Viking Books an imprint of Penguin Books Australia, 2024
Cover design Alex Ross @ Penguin Random House Australia P/L
Cover image Source/Getty Images

While the two leads in this story are girls in their final year of high school, it is a book that will strike a chord with readers, no matter their age or gender. It’s far more than a coming of age tale and however far from the last years of school we are, we do all recall that particular agony of growing up.

Abbey Lay spoke to Barbie about Lead us Not
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Film Review – India Sweets and Spices

Now showing at Palace Electric Canberra
101 minutes, rated M
Directed and written by Geeta Malik

India Sweets and Spices celebrates a young woman’s coming of age set against a glimpse of the lives of Indian American families. In its unflattering view of wealthy Indian life in American society, the film focusses on generational change.

A year away at college has given Alia Kapur a glimpse of possibilities beyond the expectations of her privileged upbringing in New Jersey. She returns home for the Summer break having shed many, though not all, of the bonds of expectation, and upends her family’s well-ordered life with her brash independence.

At the same time, we see the power of these traditions of respect for elders and traditional behaviour and how difficult it is to entirely throw them over – does the baby go out with the bath water? Not all of the young generation are willing to submit to the strict rules and limited horizons of their parents – though some are.

After befriending Varun, the handsome son of the new owners of the local Indian grocery, she invites his family to a dinner party where family secrets are revealed. Alia’s surprise turns to rebellion when she uncovers secrets about both her parents that push her toward a daring confrontation.

The beautiful Indian saris and jewellery, the grand houses and super-groomed women, besuited men and expensive cars, golfing days and swimming pools, make this a visually glittery film. However, it is the examination of women’s rights and roles in traditional Indian society, both in India and America, and the nature of intimate relationships, that shines most strongly, as the secret of Alia’s mother’s life emerges.

While the coming of age of the young protagonist is central, so too is the butterfly-like emergence of her mother after years of submission to the rules.

There is humour in this film, but for me more tragedy and pathos. It’s a moving work and we identify easily with the female characters, as we are meant to.

The submission of the men to societal norms is also worth a mention. We see that the older generation of men had as little choice as the women, though they had more benefits and power. We cannot but rejoice in the growing openness of the young main protagonists’ conversations, their capacity to analyse their cultural norms and their determination to make their own choices.

This was an enjoyable film with lots of costume and site-scene glitz, some wry humour, a bit of slapstick and enough thought-provoking material to satisfy the viewer wanting to address the hard issues that are the underlay of this story. It’s easy to be beguiled by the trappings of wealth and ‘success’, less easy to move away from them in real life.

Sophia Ali is consistently beautiful on screen, but the strong, knowing, quiet presence of Deepti Gupta as Varun’s mother, Bhaivari, is for me the outstanding performance.

You don’t need an association with Indian culture to enjoy this film, but it will add much to your understanding of it if you do.

Cast: Sophia Ali, Manisha Koirala, Adil Hussain, Deepti Gupta, Rish Shah, Ved Sapru