‘Define Please’ and ‘Donkey’s Head’ explore what it’s like to still feel stuck in adulthood

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The word: Opsimath. Definition: A person who begins to study or study later in life.

That’s the core irony of Sujata Day’s 2020 directorial debut, Define Please, now streaming on Netflix. Monica (Dade’s adult) spells the word correctly and wins the bee, reaching the stereotype of the success of an Indian-American child. But 15 years later, the character’s return to her home in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, hasn’t reached her full potential.

Day said the film’s title was a metaphor for Monica’s malaise.

“When you’re on a spelling contest as a contestant and you’re looking for more time, you say ‘definition, please,’ or ‘language of origin’ or ‘can you repeat that word?'” she said in an interview with US Wire TV News Network interview. “Not only is this young woman a former spelling bee champion, but she’s looking for definition in her life.”

In other words, “Define Please” is a story about being stuck and finding a way out of a downturn. Along the way, Monica’s relationship with her brother Sonny (Ritesh Rajan), her mother Jaya (Anna Khaja) and her best friend Krista (Lalaine) — and the characters’ own struggles — help her Figure out how to move forward.

Analysis: Creators of Color, Your Hollywood Time Has Come

The question of how to move forward is also at the heart of “Donkey’s Head,” directed by Anglo-Canadian director Agam Dashi, which is also now on Netflix. It follows Mona (Darshi), a failed writer in her 30s, living with her ailing Sikh father in her childhood home in Canada. As he falls into a coma, Mona begins to collapse and her three siblings show up to take care of things.

Both films, recently acquired by Ava DuVernay’s distribution company Array, tell the stories of the children of Indian immigrants (Bengali Hindus in Please Define and Sikh Punjabis in Donkey’s Head). But instead of taking center stage, their culture has battled stagnation and subverted cultural expectations—challenging the model minority trope in the process.

they depict deeply flawed characters

In “Donkey’s Head”, Mona is the black sheep of the family – the only one of her siblings who doesn’t seem to be together. She resisted religious practices, and when her aunt wanted to host three consecutive Sikh prayers at home, she refused. After she failed to hand over her manuscript, her writing career was a mess. On top of that, she had an affair with a married man.

In other words, Mona is the “donkey head” of the family.

The title

“The Sikh Punjabis obviously really love their children, but they can be rude. The language can be rude. This shows in the parenting process,” Darshi explained. “[My mom] Call me a donkey every time I do something stupid. Although it is an insult, it is also a word of affection. “

But Mona was also the one who stayed to care for her father after he was diagnosed with cancer – despite the abuse she suffered as a child. In doing so, Mona tries to prove to her father that she is more than just a “donkey’s head” in his eyes. But she’s also considering the fact that when her father dies, she may end up being forced to confront her aimless presence.

They are both generic and specific

“Donkey’s head” is both general and specific. It’s an exploration of chaotic family dynamics, compassion, forgiveness, and self-discovery. But it tells the story through the unique perspective of a Sikh Punjabi immigrant family — a demographic rarely depicted on screen with nuance and complexity.

In

“I really wanted to represent a messy, flawed South Asian woman because I didn’t think we had enough in the movie,” Darcy said. “And I really wanted to express and create space for a Sikh Punjabi in a turban in a way that we’ve never seen before.”

Dai has similar ambitions for Please Define.

“What’s happening in the Western media and Hollywood stories is that they portray all Indians as the same person, while Gujaratis, Punjabis, South Indians and Bangladeshis exist,” she said. “Yes, we have a lot of similarities, but we also eat different food, wear different clothes, and all our weddings are different. I really wanted to tap into my culture because I like watching very specific movies, But it’s universally applicable to everyone.”

One of the core tensions of

“Define Please” pays homage to the Bengali soap opera, sprinkles Bengali and shows Monica sleeping with her mom. But its characters face very real challenges – Monica’s brother Sonny is battling bipolar disorder and is always on par with his high-achieving sister. His family is receiving how to learn about his condition. Monica is dealing with her own problems.

“I wanted to show the beauty of this universal experience, normalizing us as people, but also in the context of the culture there, rather than focusing the story on the clash of characters with their culture,” added Day.

They normalize without figuring it all out

At the end of the day, “Define Please” and “Donkey’s Head” are some kind of coming-of-age stories — both exploring what it’s like to be in a state of developmental arrest even after puberty.

“I love coming-of-age stories, and I always felt they were a bit of a waste on young people,” Darshi said. “I think seeing someone approaching 40 and having to start over and having to realize that everything they grew up and believed could be wrong – they had to start over, or they’ve learned something, they’re getting into themselves field of.”

Contrary to the expectations of a culture that emphasizes achievement and success from an early age, these two films normalize the adult experience rather than make it all clear. They show that it’s okay to be a late bloomer, or, in the words of former Spelling Bee champion Monica Chowdry, an opsimath.


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