Dir. Ravi Kapoor | USA | 2015 | 98 minutes
Nov 6 7:00 pm | AGO Jackman Hall
The coming-of-age comedy, Miss India America, is full of genuine charm with an emphasis on cultural continuity that is sure to appeal to Indian communities worldwide, as well as capitalize on the universal curiosity surrounding pageant life.
Lily Prasad, a Californian high-school valedictorian and all-around overachiever, has never lacked approval and praise from her teachers, parents and friends. So, when her longtime boyfriend Karim breaks up with her and starts dating an airhead beauty queen, she is understandably thrown. Ever practical, Lily decides to prove no one can one-up her by registering for the Miss India Golden State pageant to win the crown and regain Karim’s affection. She recruits her best friend Seema as her stylist and coach, since her grasp of Indian culture isn’t particularly strong after so many years focused on academics.
Her “training” involves preparing requisite inspirational speeches (that preferably reference child poverty), practicing her traditional dance performance, and learning to walk in a sari and high heels. This, paired with her knack of “winning” and accomplishing anything she attempts, leads her to feel confident in her ability to win. However, as the first day of the pageant arrives, she sizes up her competition and pegs Sonia as her top competitor. For Lily to succeed, she has to do more than outsmart the other girls to demonstrate her commitment to tradition, all the while dealing with a drunken, chauvinistic Bollywood celebrity judge, a playboy MC and the hyper-vigilant pageant organizer.
Tiya Sircar, who won Best Actress at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival for her portrayal of Lily in the film, deftly demonstrates the character’s contradictory traits with unabashed self-confidence. When the beauty pageant requirements challenge her, Sircar manages to elicit sympathy for Lily’s misguided fixation on perfection.
The award-winning screenplay, written by Meera Simhan (who also plays Lily’s mother) and her husband Ravi Kapoor, quickly establishes an authentic tone that pays respect to Indian cultural norms. It also impressively navigates Lily into increasingly conflicted situations, while maintaining a light, comedic touch throughout.
Miss India America is a sweet, funny, and heartwarming coming-of-age story that praises honesty, family, and doing your best. The audience learns, as Lily does, that sometimes, winning doesn’t mean everything.