Cast: Anupam Kher, Mahima Chaudhary, Vikram Chatwal and Amit Sial
Director: Tanuja Chandra
As far as intentions go, director Tanuja Chandra's Hope & A Little Sugar has its heart in the right place. Set in New York just weeks before 9/11 happened, it's the story of an Indian family shattered by personal loss, but more precisely, it's a lesson in overcoming our prejudices.
Newcomer Amit Sial plays Ali Siddique, a struggling photographer in Manhattan who pays his bills working as a delivery boy. He shares a close friendship with married couple Saloni and Harry Oberoi (played by Mahima Chaudhary and Vikram Chatwal) who belong to a traditional Sikh family headed by Harry's father (Anupam Kher) who, well after his retirement from the army, continues to be affectionately addressed as Colonel.
When Harry is killed in the events of September 11th, his family is naturally devastated. And Colonel, not finding anyone else to blame, directs his anger and his hatred for Muslims towards Ali, in whose arms his recently widowed daughter-in-law seems to have found comfort.
A victim of ethnic violence himself, Ali prepares to retaliate to the Colonel's attacks.
In what can perhaps be described as the best scene in the film — also the turning point in Hope & A Little Sugar — a group of angry Americans mistake the turbaned Colonel as belonging to the same community he despises so much. They call him 'Osama' and beat him up.
It's a particularly powerful scene, especially if you consider the Colonel's tirade against Ali, only a few scenes earlier where he refers to all Muslims as terrorists, urging them to go back to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Saudia Arabia and to bomb their own homes.
Hope & A Little Sugar makes an important point, and for the most part, does it in a way that's simple enough to understand. But there are still enough holes that leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Is it just me or do we really never see how Harry's death has affected Saloni? And because we're never once shown how she comes to terms with this horrific incident, Saloni comes off looking rather shallow when we next see her focusing her attentions on Ali.
In most places the script trades subtlety for excess, and nowhere is that more evident than that scene in which we see the Colonel delightfully posing for pictures in his home on Indian Independence Day, every corner of his apartment decorated with the Indian flag.
Saddest of all, however, is the fact that the writers reinforce every single cliché you've come to associate with NRI Punjabis — bhangra parties at home, rebellious daughters embarrassed of their traditional parents, and elders spouting memories of their days back home in India.
The real problem with Hope & A Little Sugar lies in its writing. Even central characters are poorly written, as a result failing to make much of an impression. We never quite understand what kind of marriage Saloni and Harry have.
We never quite understand why Ali befriends the Oberois even after he learns Saloni is married — is it because he longs for family in a foreign land, or because there's no other way to hang around Saloni? The film's title is derived from a restaurant Saloni runs, but the writers fail to use the restaurant as a character in the story.
Of the cast, Mahima Chaudhary invests sincerity into her role and delivers an earnest performance, as do Anupam Kher and Amit Sial. But the film's real hero is its intention. Sadly, however, intentions alone don't make a great film.
Hope & A Little Sugar</i. is an honest little film, but that's about it. I'll go with two out of five and an average rating for Tanuja Chandra's Hope & A Little Sugar — watch it if you must for the nobility behind the intention. Don't expect too much, and you won't be too disappointed.
Rating: 2 / 5 (Average)