starring Geraldine Viswanathan, Karan Soni, Gita Reddy, Zenobia Shroff
written by Roshan Sethi & Karan Soni
directed by Roshan Sethi
by Walter Chaw Roshan Sethi's 7 Days is a charmer. It opens like When Harry Met Sally... with interviews of real couples at different stages in their relationships talking about how they met and how they're getting along. In this incarnation, the couples all appear to be desi, and the common theme that binds them is their arranged marriages. They set the stage for this story of traditional cultures trying to maintain in the diaspora, of how a young generation of desi struggle with the pull of tradition versus the siren's call of assimilation. I don't use this metaphor loosely: assimilation is a kind of death. If it results in rebirth, so be it, but a thing dies in the process of that renaissance and I'm no longer certain that the transformation is necessary or, if it's necessary, worth it. The rewards fall far short of the price one pays for surrendering something so valuable as a cultural lineage, an identity beyond the one provided by an adopted culture that would prefer you edgeless and easy to compartmentalize.
Ravi (Karan Soni) is a very good boy. He loves his mother and tells her everything. In return, she writes his online dating profile for various arranged-marriage sites. He goes on dates and spends days hoping to hear he hasn't fucked up again. In 7 Days, he takes a very good girl named Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan) to a romantic spot by a reservoir that is unfortunately drought-low, ant-ridden, and hot. He apologizes, is horrified to learn that "hard" lemonade means there's alcohol in it, and as things are going worse than one could possibly imagine, they receive a series of alerts announcing that the world is shutting down because of Covid. With his rental car suddenly cancelled, Ravi needs to sleep on Rita's couch--for three days--and then other things happen, as the title indicates they must, and the three days stretch into seven. I'll be honest, I think if the film had ended at three days, we'd have something a lot like a masterpiece here.
The forced relationship dynamics between Ravi and Rita are lovely. Rita proves to not be a very good girl in a traditional sense at all, and Ravi, because Rita gets bored easily, finds out that he's actually kind of fun when he's had a little whiskey and loosens up a bit. Phone calls with their mothers reveal they're still working on finding spouses for their kids. In one terrible moment, Rita puts her mom (Gita Reddy) on speaker so Ravi can hear how her mother tells her that she hopes Rita hasn't shown Ravi "the real you," because no one could love that version of Rita. The real Rita drinks, eats meat, isn't a great housekeeper, and is having an affair with a married guy she calls "daddy" (voiced by producer Mark Duplass). Worse than married--or as bad, perhaps--Daddy isn't even desi. But we get it, don't we? Those of us orphaned in our own diasporas and drawn and bisected by the horse of the United States and the horse of whatever colour our parents salute. Never good enough, never faithful enough; the danger is this place we were born, and the decision that children of the diaspora must make is not unlike the child of divorcing parents choosing one to live with, the other to visit.
The lockdown portions are fun, up until Rita decides to go back out into the world and returns--too conveniently, I think--with Covid. She explains she's contracted it by touching everything in the drugstore and licking her hands, and we know enough by now to know this isn't likely how the coronavirus is spread. We can forgive it by saying that whatever Rita believes, maybe she encountered some aerosol contagion in that store, I suppose. It probably doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, though I'm uncomfortable when any piece of media makes statements that could be used in place of scientific guidance. Setting this aside, Rita's illness is dramatized in a way I didn't love. Nor did I like how it causes her feelings towards Ravi to deepen and resolve for the final beats of 7 Days: Maybe the wound is too raw, but I'm not ready for Covid to be a plot device yet. Without this left turn, 7 Days shows real chops, real intelligence, sharp timing, and lovely and compelling chemistry between its leads. It does representation well, addressing tough topics without rendering them alien concerns for alien beings.