INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES Interview With Sophia Ali On Subverting Expectations With Her Latest Role (Exclusive)
We were recently granted an exclusive opportunity to sit down with rising star Sophia Ali to talk about her leading role in Geeta Malik's critically acclaimed comedy/drama, India Sweets and Spices!
As Bleecker Street's family comedy India Sweets and Spices continues to play in theaters across the globe, we caught up with the film's leading lady Sophia Ali and spoke with her about being given an opportunity to play such an authentic Indian American character and subverting stereotypes. We also cover some of the film's biggest moments, her career at large, and she offers an interesting tease about what's to come in Uncharted!
The film tells the story of Alia Kapur (Sophia Ali), who returns to her family’s posh suburban New Jersey home after a year away at college and upends their well-ordered life with her brash independence. After befriending Varun (Rish Shah), the handsome son of the new owners of the local Indian grocery, she invites his family to a dinner party where long-buried family secrets are revealed.
Alia’s unexpected discovery and subsequent surprise turn to rebellion when she uncovers secrets about both her parents that push her toward a daring and ultimately hilarious confrontation. The film celebrates a young woman’s coming of age journey set against a lovingly framed glimpse of the life of an Indian American family.
Check out the interview below, and keep scrolling for the full transcript!
ROHAN: I mentioned this to Geeta as well, but watching this film gave me a touch of PTSD, just remembering similar parties growing up - did you have a similar experience?
SOPHIA: Yes, yes, definitely, I mean it didn’t give me PTSD, maybe a little bit - actually, yeah, but it was hard because you watched it for two hours or however long the movie is, I filmed it, weeks and weeks of PTSD. Everyday I’m like talking myself through it, “It’s okay, it’s just a movie.”
ROHAN: It’s simultaneously a very Indian story while also a very American story...
SOPHIA: Yeah, definitely, the opportunity to portray something that I felt so close to, you hit it.
ROHAN: To play Alia, did you find yourself drawing on your own personal experience or on Geeta's experience?
SOPHIA: Definitely my own personal experience, I can relate to Alia in that way. I felt my whole life like a rebel and outspoken and yeah, it was cool. What was cool about reading the script was that someone else wrote that character and I related to it so much. It was almost like she had written me.
ROHAN: As you know, Manisha Koirala is a Bollywood legend... what was it like working with her?
SOPHIA: So cool, so inspiring. She was really just a delight, she was so cool, to watch her adapt and not skip a beat, like she started and it wasn’t like, you haven’t done this in a while or you’re from Bollywood, I had never worked with a Bollywood actor before and I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I wasn’t sure if she was going to be because Bollywood is more extra, it’s very out there and I love it, but it’s just a different style and I thought that there would be a moment of breaking her out of that, but there wasn’t. She was amazing and super subtle and it was really, really cool to watch. She didn’t even ask questions, you know what I mean?
ROHAN: I believe this is the first time you've been able to work with an Indian-American director like Geeta - what was that experience like?
SOPHIA: I feel like she looked at me as Alia, to be honest, which was really cool, it was so cool, I don’t know - To have that much faith in an actor that you hired to portray something that’s so meaningful to you is probably hard to do. I haven’t really thought about it like that, but she did, she had so much faith in me and it was really amazing. It was really amazing. Most of the time I feel like directors don’t know how to direct me, like you said, that would probably be the biggest difference. They don’t know what the vision is for me because they just don’t know me, they have never seen anyone like me on screen, they don’t know what that looks like, so I feel like I get free reign in a sense, so to have Geeta, she was so precise, she knew what she wanted every day and it made my job easier, so much easier and sometimes harder actually, to be honest, because it was like, “Oh, you actually have opinions and they’re right,” cause this is yours. It was cool.
ROHAN: Often, it feels like Indian-American actors get pigeonholed into certain kinds of roles. Did you feel like Alia allowed you an opportunity to really showcase what you're capable of as an actress?
SOPHIA: Well, I’m on a show on Amazon and I’d done Grey’s Anatomy before and I had had a few characters that I played that didn’t go as in-depth as Alia’s story did, but there was just so much more than I ever expected I would ever get as an actor. I thought that I was going to be playing the stereotypes or ethnicities that weren’t true to my own race or just like the second characters, the side characters, the token ethnic characters I like to call them and I had just always prepared myself for that, like that’s just what my career is going to look like and so now, I don’t know when it was in my life, I decided, no, I’m actually just going to be me, fully and unashamed and let them figure it out and they did.
ROHAN: Was there a specific moment or scene where you related to Alia the most?
SOPHIA: Yes, the scenes where she does stick up to the aunties, (claps), I would love to do something like that, but it’s never that obvious in the moment, you can’t just say it, it’s like so subliminal or behind your back and you don’t really hear it till later and stuff and then you never really get the opportunity, but I feel like I can be confrontational sometimes. I can get in those moods and her relationship to her dad is so accurate to my relationship to my father, honestly, I mean obviously it wasn’t the same kind of events in my life, but I was never really afraid of sticking up for myself with him and I think that’s something that he had to come to terms with, just culturally, because he had a different experience growing up with his sisters and his mother. I think that there were times that it was shocking to him how comfortable I was to be outspoken and it was definitely a lot like the movie, he’s learning how to communicate with me more than I have to learn how to communicate with him.
ROHAN: These parties are really insane... did you have a lot of fun sort of playing the voice of reason while everyone else gets to play a little over the top?
SOPHIA: Yeah, it was so fun, especially just thinking back to my childhood and how that was going to be portrayed. I’ve always wanted to be that person who is screaming the truth while everyone else is blind. Then, in the movie, I was like thinking back to my cousins and my aunts and uncles, who are going to be watching this after it comes out and it’s like, “Ooh man, are they going to realize that’s me. That’s me, oh no, I need to reevaluate. *laughs* I don’t know, are they going to be that aware? I don’t know. All of them are like, “We love it, we love it!,” which, of course, I wanted.
ROHAN: You have a nice romance with Rish Shah's character. Did you two develop chemistry pretty quickly or was it something that developed naturally over the course of filming?
SOPHIA: Super instant, we connected so fast, both Rish and Ved, they’re like brothers to me, I love them. I still hang out with Rish, I just saw him in New York last week.
ROHAN: Along with Rish, you’re also working with a lot of other young Indian and South Asian actors like Ved and Anita - what was that collective experience like? Did you all bond fairly quickly?
SOPHIA: Anita’s the same way, she lives in LA, I live in LA, we worked together previously on another job, this movie for Fox, Mono, and I think something else too or maybe it was India: Sweets and Spices that I’m thinking of. No, I think we worked on together on multiple things, maybe not, but regardless, I was always seeing her around and stuff. It was so cool, I never thought we would get another chance to work together again, even the fact that we were in something together already was shocking, I was like, “Oh there’s another Indian girl in here, there’s two!,” Two different types as well, which is so great, to add just quickly the different types of Indians that you’re exposed to during the movie, India: Sweets & Spices, it’s like the biggest problem with stereotypes is this assumption that everyone is the same. I feel like so much of my life has been asking people to accept me as the Indian that they’re not used to.
ROHAN: The end of the film sees you sport a shaved head, which snaps everyone at the last party out of their collective daze - could you tell me more about how you approached that scene because it was really beautifully acted by both you and Manisha.
SOPHIA: My biggest thing is - what’s real about the scenario and what’s really driving that home, I don’t think that when you do something that spur of the moment and that massive, you’re not thinking about it at all, you don’t even think it through whatsoever. I think that her reaction is going to be, of course there’s this vulnerability, but it’s grounded in this strength, this adrenaline like when you jump off a plane, you just pick up your boss pants and then you jump and that’s how I sorted feel like how Alia treated shaving her head. Something needs to happen, I don’t know what, but I’m going to do something grand so that I get your attention and that’s all she knew and then she ends up shaving her head and she’s like, “This is the thing.,” and didn’t even think about, “What do I look like?,” until probably later and then at that point, it’s too late, but she doesn’t care.
ROHAN: When that confessional begins, was it really hard to keep it together and not laugh?
SOPHIA: So hard! And I knew, I was preparing myself all day for it because I just had the giggles, because I loved that scene, I loved that scene. When I read it, I was crying, I’m not exaggerating, I was crying, I had tears coming down my face, I was laughing so hard. I thought that scene was so funny, when one of the uncles is like, “I’m gay! Oh no sorry, I just got carried away,” like that’s so funny to hear an uncle say that, you would never hear an uncle say that and just get caught in the moment, it was so funny. *laughs*
ROHAN: After this, you're about to tackle the biggest project of your career in Uncharted. Can you tell me anything about what it was like to breathe life into this iconic Indian-Australian video game character?
SOPHIA: She’s so different than Alia, from anyone actually that I’ve ever had the privilege of playing, which is so cool, she was a big challenge though because I had to learn an Australian accent, so much of her stuff is stunts and she’s such a badass in the games that I wanted to be able to do that with the stunts. I wanted to look just as badass and hopefully I do, but you never know. It’s scary!
ROHAN: Would you be interested in doing a Lost Legacy spinoff down the line?
SOPHIA: We speculated on whether or not Tati was Nadine, we really hoped she would be, but she wasn’t. We don’t introduce Nadine, maybe in the second film or third, who knows. If they were to go off and do their own movie, that would be pretty baller.
ROHAN: After India Sweets and Spices and the upcoming Uncharted, what kind of role would you like to tackle next?
SOPHIA: I think that I feel so fulfilled in representing myself, I really want to do something that’s representing myself, it goes beyond just myself, so the culture that I come from as well, that’s a big part of who I am and getting to represent that is something I’ve always wanted to do as an actor. Now, I feel like, “Okay, that’s done, I did it.,” Now, I want to do something that’s opposite of me completely, like what is me, but the opposite. The weird thing is it wouldn’t be dark, I think she’d just be crazy. Like maybe a psychopath or something like that, like I’m so empathetic, I feel like to play someone that’’s not very emotional and maybe mentally ill would be fun. That would be a stretch, I would feel very challenged trying to do that realistically.
India Sweets and Spices is now playing in theaters worldwide!