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A heist movie from the heart of Little India

Venk Potula and Karan Soni in 'Four Samosas'
Venk Potula and Karan Soni in 'Four Samosas'

Four Samosas opens the Tallgrass Film Festival's gala screenings tonight at the Orpheum. It's a heist comedy set in Artesia, a small city in Los Angeles County known as Little India. The movie follows an aspiring rapper who hits on a plan to steal some diamonds from a local business owner... with mixed results.

Ravi Kapoor is the director and writer of Four Samosas.

Fletcher Powell: So, your movie takes place in a very specific location: Artesia, Little India. At the same time, if you strip away the details, it's the sort of story that could be transplanted almost anywhere and still work. So, I'm curious how you walk that line between something that's so specific to a place and a group of people, and making it work for a broader audience as well.

Ravi Kapoor is the director and writer of Four Samosas.

Ravi Kapoor: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting because at its heart it is a heist movie and it is a love story. And these are things I think that anybody can relate to. We all know how the heist movie kind of plays out. While ours is, it's very much a lo-fi heist movie, but what makes it unique, I think, is the fact that it's set in this very, very specific place. And I think it informs the story to a certain amount. It informs the characters, it informs how they react with each other, and even why they're doing the heist in the first place, as well. But yet, ultimately, it's a heist movie and a love story.

The movie is very silly—and I say that very much as a compliment. That is definitely not a bad thing. But what it's not is too silly. And so that's another really fine line that you had to walk. How are you able to negotiate this so that you are pushing the boundaries of being silly, but not making it so ridiculous that people can't connect with it and laugh?

Yeah, it is always trying to figure out what the tone is of your film and being consistent with it. And I think with Four Samosas it was making sure that people were engaged emotionally with the characters, while also having a good time with the characters and going along on this kinda crazy, zany journey that they're doing, but feeling for them as well, and understanding what all of their motivations were for taking part in this doomed-to-failure heist. Although is it doomed? I don't know, I don't wanna give it away (laughs).

Being able to connect with those characters emotionally, I wonder are some of these people that you kind of know in real life?

(laughs) It's interesting because in some ways they are aspects of myself to some degrees. I would say that the lead character of Vinny, who's kind of going through a little bit of a, he's in some doldrums at this particular moment when we meet him in the film, artistically as well. He's trying to figure out what kind of artist is he, what kind of rapper is he, what kind of musician is he? And in some ways I kind of found myself in a similar position as a filmmaker having taken a while to make this second feature, of kind of going, "Oh God, what is my voice? Have I lost my voice now? Do I remember what those initial impulses were and instincts about the kind of work that I wanted to make?" So, in some ways, what Vinny is going through is definitely a reflection of what I was going through artistically, I think. And then some of the other characters, for sure. They're the people I know and to some degrees their wants and desires. And what's also interesting, I think, about all the characters, is that they use art. Whether that's the desire to be a journalist or a Bollywood movie star or a rapper, they use art as a way to escape from their everyday lives as well. And so I think we all know people like that.

So, Vinny is also lovelorn. His girlfriend broke up with him three years ago as we're reminded multiple times, but he's still broken up about it. Is that a little bit personal as well?

No, I'm definitely not lovelorn (both laugh), but I I've been there, in my younger days, you know? When you feel like that person who you thought was your be-all and end-all, was your destiny, seems to drift away from you and slip through your hands. But then you realize, actually no, they weren't my destiny. My destiny was waiting around the corner. But in the moment, it's terrible and it's heartbreaking, and it hurts and it can lead you to do things that maybe you shouldn't do. As it does with Vinny.

The actor who plays Vinny, Venk Potula, I get the idea he actually is a rapper?

Venk has done some rapping in the past. He was on 'Wild 'n Out' playing a character on that show and doing some rapping. Venk primarily is an actor, and he's a wonderful actor. He's a great, great talent. I was so happy to partner with him, and he also co-produced the film with me, too. But he has done a little bit. And what was fascinating and brilliant was we got to write a couple of songs. And so the last song in the movie, as well, it's actually Venk who was doing the rapping, and we got to write the lyrics together. And he's fantastic at it. I think he might have found another arrow to his quiver.

Well, what I wanted to ask is that, at some points earlier in the movie, Vinny is not a good rapper, and I just wondered how hard that was for Venk. Because I know it's got to be really hard for an actor to pretend to be bad at acting, I wondered if it was hard, as far as you could tell, for Venk to pretend to be bad at rapping.

It's interesting, because I think the lyrics when we first see him trying to rap, or when he first raps and he's exploring a new song, I don't think they're necessarily that bad. I just don't think he has confidence in them.

Maybe that's what it is.

Yeah, I think he's just lacking belief in them. I mean, I think so much with any kind of art form, it's having the gumption to go, "What I'm doing is brilliant." And I think that so much of rapping and any kind of musicians, as well, or any kind of artists, I think half of the battle is having this overriding confidence and self-belief. And I think Vinny is lacking in the self-belief and he's not able to sell it, more than anything else. But I think by the end of the film, as well, what he realizes is that maybe he needs to look at a different style of how he's performing and find something that's a little bit more true to his heart.

Something I personally really, really connected with in the movie is how much everybody loves food.

Yeah. You know, it's because Artesia, Little India, and I think every Little India in North America, or in the UK, or in Canada, or Australia, they are little bastions, or principalities, in some ways, where you can go and experience India without stepping out of your home country. And a large part of that is the culinary experience of those places. And so when you go to Artesia and you go to Little India, you're going mainly to do a little sari shopping, and buy some electronic goods, or buy a pot or a pan, but you're going to round out the day by having an awesome meal when you go to those places. And the biggest problem is trying to figure out which restaurant to go to because your stomach is only going to be so big and you can only fit so many spots in. But it is such a big part of going to a Little India is the food there. And I love Indian food and I love-- I shouldn't, you know, because I was brought up on it, I should be sick of it.

How could you be?

I know, right? And I think what's amazing about Indian food as well is the variety. And we don't always get a sense of what that variety is. Often we just hit the North Indian food, tends to be the most popular, but there's so many varieties and there's so many sweets and there's so many different types of flavors and yeah, it's amazing. I can never get enough of it. So I have to have Indian food in my movies. Always.

The look of the movie... you have a lot of really vibrant colors, which I think is something that, even if people aren't terribly familiar with Indian culture, certainly they understand seeing people in saris, which are often very vibrant and beautiful. Was that something that you had in mind while you were making the movie or do you just like vibrant colors?

I mean, I do just kind of, I felt for this particular story it was the right way to go and we wanted to get really specific with the look of the film and the style of the film, to use the kind of budget level that we were working in and make it very defined, and make it a very specific experience for the audience. And part of that was about the colors, part of that was about the framing as well. We frame it all in a 4:3 aspect ratio. We decided to be brave and we shot everything on one lens, as well. We didn't switch our lenses. And again, to give it a very specific kind of feel and look. And I think the colors to some degrees, yeah there's a little bit of the exotic quality of the "Indianness" of it. But then I think also, some of the movies that I do love, like the Wes Anderson films, and Amélie or Delicatessen, movies like that, those movies which are touchstones for me, also tend to have very colorful palettes as well.

I hadn't thought about Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Amélie and Delicatessen) when I was watching the movie, but now that you mentioned that you can see a bit of that in your film. Certainly the Wes Anderson, and people have remarked on that, as well. That influence is there, but, Jeunet, knowing that that's there for you is really interesting.

Yeah, and I think when you look at Jeunet's films, as well, and a lot of the wide angle close-ups and the exploding of people's faces. And also I think, in some ways the clown quality of this film as well, in Jeunet you get a real sense of his characters are all living in a big top. They're all living in a circus in some degrees. And so are these characters, I think, in Four Samosas. It is a slightly heightened world, it is a slightly theatrical world. And I think it's the same when you look at a film like Jeunet's Delicatessen, which is a big one for me. It's like you're watching performance art film, to some degrees. And also another influence, as well, just to put it out there is, I think, some silent films, as well. And I love Buster Keaton, and I love a little Chaplin, and there's definitely elements of that there, too.

This movie looks like it must have been just a blast to make. But you also said that it took you a good while to make this feature, so it couldn't have been fun the entire time. But what was this like for you going from the idea until now, premiering this at film festivals?

I have to say in some ways it was super fast. It's taken me a long time to make a second feature, but this one, in terms of its inception, happened really, really quickly. I started writing it during Covid and then we started pitching the idea to investors and raising funds. And before you know it, we were shooting it, in a very kind of fast and quick order. And that was part of the idea as well, was, I really wanted to make a film where I wasn't going to get into development hell. And part of that was about taking control of it and raising the money myself and having the artistic control and not having to kind of satisfy other people's artistic impulses and saying, "No, this is the film that I wanna make and this is how I would like to really make it."

And obviously collaborating with the people that you bring on board, to adjust shift and help to make it grow as well. But the touchstone for me, as well, with this film was about making a film that I really wanted to see, as opposed to thinking about what would the audience want to see. And that was always the... Whenever the question was, "Do I do it this way, or do it that way?" it was always like, "Well, what would I like to see?" Because when you start thinking about what other people want to see, you could be there forever, because there's a million things that anybody else might like to see.

Well, the movie's just a delight to watch. I do have one huge complaint, which is that there's not enough Sunny and Salim.


We'll just let people wonder what that means. But you will all agree with me once you see the movie.

Yeah, and I would encourage people to stay through to the very end of the titles of the movie to experience a nice little Sunny and Salim Easter egg. But yeah, I think there's gotta be a follow-up movie with Sonny and Salim.

A spinoff series at least, right?

Definitely (laughs)

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.