A Nice Indian Boy’ Isn’t Afraid to Admit the Truth About Love: It’s a Mess


SXSW 2024

The new romantic comedy, which premiered at this year’s SXSW, is a modest but heartfelt take on what happens when big culture and slight cowardice collide.

I’ve always said that there aren’t enough romantic comedies that depict how horrific most first dates are. I’ve been on enough casual meetups that have crashed and burned to know that these disasters occur far more often than not. Clicking with someone—in real life, mind you—enough to make a couple of hours (at least!) of consistent, enjoyable conversation is not a simple feat. Luckily, A Nice Indian Boy, which premiered at SXSW March 12, isn’t afraid to let its pair of lovebirds seem fundamentally mismatched, and for a good chunk of its runtime to boot.

That’s not an oversight in the film’s casting; its leads have chemistry, albeit some that takes a decent amount of time to dig up. Rather, it’s a testament to the movie’s reluctance to make life seem as neat and tidy as formulaic rom-coms suggest it can be. Love is messy, and we often don’t understand the true, immense depth of it until we’re many months or years into it, long enough to let it fundamentally change who we are. While that might be a little intense for a film that’s by-and-large a conventional romance, A Nice Indian Boy is filled with enough novel truth to transcend its predictable elements, leaving viewers with a film that feels like a genuine love story, instead of an idealistic imitation.

A Nice Indian Boy centers on Naveen (Karan Soni), a young, gay Indian man whose traditional parents are anxious to set him up with a—you guessed it—nice Indian boy. Given that Naveen is both a wildly busy doctor and an adorably bashful wallflower, dating isn’t something that necessarily comes easily to him. He’s content with his job, small handful of friends, and weekly dinners with his mother Megha (Zarna Garg), father Archit (Harish Patel), and older sister Arundhathi (Sunita Mani), where the conversation usually turns to Naveen’s love life. Seemingly by divine intervention, he sees Jay (Jonathan Groff) while praying at a local Hindu temple, and meets him again when Jay is hired to take the new ID badge photos at Naveen’s hospital.

Initially, their connection seems kismet, orchestrated by the Hindu god of new beginnings, Ganesha (who has always been Naveen’s personal favorite). But just as quickly as they strike up a rapport, Jay and Naveen’s first real rendezvous quickly goes south when Jay, a white guy, seems to be “more Indian” than Naveen does. Jay was adopted and raised by Indian parents, and took to the big, open-hearted, loving culture from a young age. He’s the diametrical opposite of the timid Naveen, and when Jay starts singing on the sidewalk and vaping on their date, it seems like the pair isn’t a match after all. Finally, a film that is reluctant to display the primal horrors of finding out that you’re on a date with a theater gay until it’s too late!

This one not-so-great outing, of course, doesn’t deter Naveen entirely, but it is enough to make him suspicious. A Nice Indian Boy cleverly chronicles the perils of dating while anxious and unsure. Those with a similar disposition to Naveen will find themselves reflected in his character’s tightly-wound-and-locked-tight personality. This is the rare romantic comedy to have actual interest in studying the kinds of relationships that we settle for when we’re new to love, queer love especially. These connections are often incongruous and a little off-kilter, but we pursue them because we subconsciously think they might teach us something about ourselves. Like anyone who has been inside one of these dynamics, Naveen eventually finds that he’s gravitating toward something precisely because it feels a little uncomfortable.

Jay and Naveen’s dissimilar natures clash even further when Naveen brings Jay to meet the family, who are all surprised to see that Jay is a handsome white guy, and one who has more than a few quirks that take some getting used to. These scenes with Naveen’s family are where A Nice Indian Boy finds its most consistent and heartwarming laughs, sending up Indian culture and Megha and Archit’s attempts to transcend their conservative upbringing for their liberal-leaning desires.

Though Soni is playing a coy character, he’s quite skilled at keeping the larger parts of Naveen’s personality just under the surface, waiting to be drawn out. And though Groff’s Jay isn’t always so adept at extracting those impulses from his new boyfriend, the two still feel connected regardless of the discordancy that their relationship is working through. This gives Soni plenty of opportunities for crafty, natural comic delivery, and supplies Naveen’s family with just as many chances to volley these jokes back at him. Garg is particularly sublime at balancing the comedic and affectionate sides of her character, fleshing Megha out into a beautifully realized mother whose life is far more complex than either of her children initially realize. Whether she’s explaining the plot of Milk to her gay son beat-by-beat or asking a wedding planner if there are discounts if the ceremony is held on September 11, Garg is a total hoot.

In a film as modest as A Nice Indian Boy, having a scene-stealer like Garg can be both a hindrance and an asset. She livens up the film, but also makes it easier to tell when others aren’t quite matching her energy. Groff is as understated as he’s required to be, which occasionally makes Naveen and Jay’s relationship feel a tad passionless. But as we soon learn, the question of how much overt passion every romantic relationship should have is very much on the table, and the restraint of some characters begins to make more sense, just not before it’s specifically communicated.

Eric Randall’s screenplay avoids falling too far into that same moderation, nicely balancing his comedic edge and the script’s more sentimental elements. Randall can’t, however, keep A Nice Indian Boy from feeling like a stage-to-screen adaptation (the film is based on the play by Madhuri Shekar), but that is merely a curse that almost all plays turned into films must wrestle with. A Nice Indian Boy wears that bane far more fashionably than others.

By its end, this tale of peculiar love feels relatable and empathetic. This is how real people operate; none of the characters in A Nice Indian Boy feel like caricatures or thinly sketched archetypes of a rom-com’s usual suspects. And watching Naveen learn how to come out of his shell on his own terms is a transformation that few genre films really understand how to convey. While the movie is small and simple, that unassuming essence works in its favor. A Nice Indian Boy is content with being enjoyable, a film that doesn’t reach for the stars; rather, it is just happy to exist. And that’s exactly how love should feel: forged with passion, but managed with care.