Avie Luthra's Mad, Sad & Bad brings us Indian family dysfunction, UK style. Leena Dhingra plays immigrant matriarch Usha who rules over her three adult children with a self-esteem shattering iron fist. But she's not just an emotional tyrant; she's needy too (and a bit of an alcoholic) and can't understand why her children don't want to spend time with her.
There's frumpy, librarian daughter Rashmi (Meera Syal) who joins dating agencies to counteract family ostracism of her single-dom; her brother the mediocre TV writer and inattentive boyfriend Atul (Nitin Ganatra); and morally bankrupt psychiatrist/eldest son Hardeep (Zubin Varla).
The "estranged grown siblings trying to find love and deal with crazy parents" trope is all too familiar but luckily the actors know how to nail the delivery of each line and avoid falling into one-dimensional character traps. Syal in particular gives dignity to a potential spinster cliché and serves as the sole redeeming character amongst her self-absorbed kin, without ever appearing like a martyr.
What’s refreshing about Mad Sad & Bad is its lack of moralizing about family togetherness. There is a nice balance that keeps the schmaltz of family comedies at bay while also avoiding the over-the-top zaniness that screams "Look how crazy we are!" Luthra shows us that sometimes we treat each other kindly and sometimes we screw each other over. ‘Tis the family way.
Mad, Sad, & Bad (UK, 2009) plays at 2:00pm Sunday, November 8 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Director Avie Luthra will be in person at the screening.