Words by Sakeina Syed
Netflix’s Indian American rom-com Wedding Season bears all the hallmarks of rom-com classics like The Proposal and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, while bringing much-needed diversity to the genre. As driven young economist Asha (Pallavi Sharda) struggles with her mother’s urgency to see her married, a solution appears during an unsuccessful setup date with Ravi (Suraj Sharma). The film takes the beloved fake-dating trope out for a fresh spin, as Asha cajoles Ravi into accompanying her to the dozens of weddings her parents have signed her up to attend. There’s much to appreciate about Wedding Season, from a warmly likable cast to its vibrant, joyous depictions of Indian weddings. But in attempting to reckon with real-life Indian cultural standards for marriage, the film leaves something to be desired.
There’s a balancing act between embracing the right to tell purely lighthearted stories about people of color, and wanting to unpack real-world issues alongside the fun. Wedding Season’s approach to combating traditional Indian expectations for marriage feels somewhat heavy-handed, and ends up sacrificing time for chemistry between its leads.
Directed by Tom Dey of Failure to Launch with a screenplay by newcomer Shiwani Srivastava, it’s clear that Wedding Season uses its cultural lens as a cornerstone, not set dressing. Asha’s parents Suneeta (Veena Sood) and Vijay (Rizwan Manji) are believable in the mixture of love and consternation that nudges them to try and pull strings in their daughter’s love life. It’s captivating to see the gorgeous lenghas and sarees our heroine dons in key scenes, and drink in the familiar sights of Toronto’s desi landmarks Gerrard Street and Lahore Tikka House. From gossiping aunties to egregiously misleading matchmaking profiles, familiar elements of desi culture are set to work with comedic effect.
It’s a lot easier (and a lot less relatable) to convince Indian parents that a non-traditional path is acceptable if that path magically comes with Facebook stock-level riches.
But while the film initially promises Asha and Ravi’s reluctant pairing being woven together through the shenanigans of fake dating, this only ends up comprising a handful of scenes. Instead, the characters spend much of the runtime grappling with the idea that Indian culture ascribes too much of someone’s worth—and marriageability—to superficial traits. There’s nothing wrong with making this the film’s core conflict. After all, it reflects a shared experience for many first-generation Indian American kids, who struggle with cultural expectations that distill marriage prospects down to a biodata.
Wedding Season’s shortcoming lies in how this conflict is handled—that is, poorly. Throughout the film, Asha and Ravi express a shared need to be defined by something other than what their community thinks of them. For Asha, that means being valued for more than someone’s wife. And for Ravi, whose internal struggle most of the romantic tension hinges on, it means proving that his non-traditional career as a DJ shouldn’t make him less worthy as a person.
But instead of giving the characters the depth they crave, Wedding Season falls for the same pitfall of shallowness it ostensibly combats. Ultimately, it ascribes value to the characters mainly based on their careers and financial status. Each newly revealed piece of characterization or moment of romantic tension is couched firmly in a financial transaction or career move. Their first almost-kiss takes place as Ravi explains a feeling of indirection in his career; nothing tells us what exactly brings Asha closer. Next, Asha is charmed during the big reveal that Ravi isn’t a regular DJ—he’s a DJ with a multi-million dollar investment fund. He uses this wealth to support his family’s failing business without them knowing, which is great, but it feels like a cop-out. It’s a lot easier (and a lot less relatable) to convince Indian parents that a non-traditional path is acceptable if that path magically comes with Facebook stock-level riches.
We never really get a chance to see Asha and Ravi define themselves by anything other than what they do for a living. When Asha isn’t arguing with her parents or entangled in the subplot of her sister Priya’s (Arianna Afsar) pre-wedding jitters, she’s at work. Yes, the film tells us that Indian women shouldn’t be defined by their marital status, but it also implies it’s completely fine to be defined by our jobs. In Asha’s case, that means her work at a microfinance nonprofit with an inexplicably massive interior design budget. One of her character’s crowning moments is a slide deck investment pitch that includes a story about her grandfather back home in India. It would be touching, if we had gotten a chance to hear that story and dig into Asha’s emotional motivation for her work beforehand.
The Big Misunderstanding™, a staple of the rom-com format, has Ravi revealing that he never graduated from MIT, and also that he made a sizable donation to Asha’s nonprofit without telling her. Like many of the scenes that preoccupy the film, it feels sorely disconnected from the relationship between the two characters. Does it change things that he dropped out of MIT when he’s extremely wealthy anyways? And can we focus less on MIT and more on him lying to Asha? Wedding Season bites off more than it can chew, resulting in a lack of direction when it comes to what story it’s trying to tell.
With stunning aesthetics, fun cultural inside jokes, and a pair of leads with compelling potential, Wedding Season is buoyed skywards by gusts of fresh air for the rom-com genre. But unfortunately, that romantic potential is hampered by an undefined attempt to dismantle cultural expectations that fails to hold water.
It’s a common pressure on films that offer cultural representation; often, this feels like the only moment in the spotlight we’ll get.
There’s so much promise in the idea of Asha and Ravi falling in love with each other under their shared façade. But we don’t see enough of the two growing together emotionally, and perhaps a few too many conversations about what it means to be a DJ. It feels incongruous to see our leads give impassioned speeches to their parents about careers not mattering, and happiness being the most important thing, juxtaposed with endless scenes of them almost exclusively talking about their careers. The characters tell us repeatedly that Indian culture shouldn't define people by their jobs—and then proceed to do just that.
Wedding Season struggled under the weight of wanting to have the answers—to say more and do more, address more issues in its compact runtime than the average rom-com. It’s a common pressure on films that offer cultural representation; often, this feels like the only moment in the spotlight we’ll get. There’s immense scrutiny on BIPOC-led stories to make some sort of social change, and push the needle forward. Countless projects are excellent examples of doing just that. But the story Wedding Season was telling didn’t lend itself to that, and it shouldn’t have had to. How many rom-coms with white leads have we eaten up that are objectively toxic, unabashed recipes for disaster, and still get to be classics? The Proposal, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and beyond.
Wedding Season is still a bright, funny watch, bringing vital representation to the romantic comedy genre. Where the film shone was in its family moments and potential between two engaging characters. I only wish the movie got to explore them in full, without the added pressure of something to prove that it couldn’t quite do justice.
Published on August 30, 2022
Words by Sakeina Syed
Sakeina Syed is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in Slate, Refinery29, VICE, Catapult, and others.