‘Miss India America’: Film Review

Courtesy of Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles
Winning the battle could mean losing the war.

A beauty contest rivalry is the backdrop for Ravi Kapoor’s award-winning cross-cultural comedy.

Beauty pageants are remarkably similar everywhere in the world. Coming-of-age comedy Miss India America’s genuine charm and particular emphasis on cultural continuity should help capitalize on the support of widely dispersed Indian communities worldwide — but also the universal curiosity we all seem to share about pageant life — in its campaign to take home the tiara.

California high school valedictorian and all-around over-achiever Lily Prasad (Tiya Sircar) has never lacked for approval from her teachers, parents or friends. But then suddenly her longtime boyfriend Karim (Kunal Sharma) breaks up with her and starts dating an airhead beauty queen. Ever practical, Lily decides to tackle the issue head-on by registering for the Miss India Golden State pageant to win her own crown and regain Karim’s affection. She recruits her best friend Seema (Kosha Patel) as her stylist and coach, since her grasp of Indian culture is fairly fuzzy after so many years of focusing on academics. Her parents are tentatively supportive, but concerned that Lily isn’t playing to her strengths and may have finally taken on more than she can manage.

As she begins preparing her requisite inspirational speech, practicing her traditional dance performance and learning to walk decorously in a sari and high heels, Lily keeps one eye on Karim to see if he notices her newfound dedication to Indian-American culture. As the first day of the pageant arrives, she sizes up her competition, pegging Sonia (Hannah Simone) for her top competitor in a field distinguished more by enthusiasm than talent. If Lily is to triumph, however, she’ll have to do more than simply outsmart the other girls to demonstrate her commitment to tradition, even while contending with a drunken, chauvinistic Bollywood celebrity judge, an amorous male MC and the hard-nosed, hyper-vigilant pageant organizer. 

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Screenwriter Meera Simhan, who also plays Lily’s mother, co-scripted with husband Ravi Kapoor in his feature-directing debut. Both have substantial acting backgrounds, which contributes to realistically humorous character dynamics, as Lily clashes with practically everyone entering her orbit. Their Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival award-winning screenplay quickly establishes an authentic tone that pays respect to Indian cultural norms, while poking gentle fun at the often-divergent interpretations that these traditions receive in overseas communities. Kapoor’s television directing experience translates smoothly between formats as he competently navigates Lily into increasingly conflicted situations, while maintaining a comically light touch throughout.

Sircar, another award-winner at the festival, builds on numerous TV appearances and smaller feature roles for a lead performance that amusingly assimilates Lily’s contradictory character traits with sassy self-confidence. When the beauty pageant requirements challenge her typical composure, Sircar winningly elicits sympathy for Lily’s misguided fixation on perfection. Though brief, Simone’s appearance as a supremely poised competitor with a compromising secret provides revealing contrast to highlight Lily’s increasingly desperate measures.

Production companies: Mr. Kicks and Lady Megs, Simhan and Kapoor
Cast: Tiya Sircar, Hannah Simone, Kosha Patel, Kunal Sharma, Meera Simhan, Bernard White, Satya Bhabha, Cas Anvar, Anjali Bhimani
Director: Ravi Kapoor
Screenwriters: Meera Simhan, Ravi Kapoor
Producers: Megha Kadakia, Saurabh Kikani
Executive producers: Simi Singh Juneja, Abby Ispahani, Nimesh Patel, Nancy Patel, Renuka Pullat/Kria Entertainment, Rosa Sferrazza-Gill, Megha Kadakia, Ravi Kapoor, Saurabh Kikani, Meera Simhan, Hannah Simone
Director of photography: Alan Caudillo
Production designer: Anthony Stabley
Editor: Varun Viswanath
Music: Amritha Vaz
No rating, 93 minutes