“Karma Calling” Review – 2009 Asian American International Film Festival

karma-calling-poster“Karma Calling,” the only feature to receive two screenings at this year’s Asian American International Film Festival, is an uplifting comedy about the struggling Raj family, a group of five Indian-Americans who live in northern New Jersey. They include an easily-duped patriarch who cannot pay the bills, his rightfully concerned wife, a 20-something daughter who feels unfulfilled in love and career, a lazy son who wishes he were a rap star, and a teenage daughter who wants above all else a Bat Mitzvah (with a create-your-own-sundae bar). During the film, a relative from India, a dollar store owner’s arranged bride, a con artist and three men who work at a call center in India enter these unhappy characters’ lives. Hilarity ensues, all under the watchful eye of “G”—that is, an animated Ganesha masterfully voiced by Tony Sirico.

Although the plot is rather predictable, “Karma Calling” is a very enjoyable film. A particularly notable feature is the nuanced and often amusing way the filmmakers treat cross-cultural interactions. One wonders whether the call center workers in India are more “American” than the actual Americans we meet in the film. At the same time, one wonders whether the fresh-off-the-plane Indian characters understand the Raj children better than their own parents.Already an award winner at several film festivals, “Karma Calling” should have a bright future. The ensemble cast, which includes a combination of first-time actors and established professionals, is uniformly good. Meanwhile, the brother-sister team of Sarba Das (co-writer and director) and Sarthak Das (co-writer and producer) keeps the humor coming and the pace moving. Watching “Karma Calling” might not be a life-changing experience, but it is a very pleasurable way to spend 90 minutes.

Festival Recap

The Asian American International Film Festival is an extraordinarily valuable annual event that has nurtured numerous up-and-coming filmmakers and introduced countless significant Asian and Asian-American films to New York audiences. It is because of this event’s importance that I conclude this review by raising a few concerns about the way the festival was run this year. First, the advertising for ‘Karma Calling” stated that the screening would be preceded by a short film titled “Incongruent Body.” I attended the Saturday screening, and—without explanation—the short was not shown. Second, several of the screenings I attended began more than 15 minutes late. This would not be such a problem if all the events are at the same or nearby location. This is, however, not the case; one of the venues was three subway stops away, and the late start made many attendees wonder whether they would be able to get to their next films on time. I hope that these problems can be resolved in future festivals.