"It's all about choices," reads the subheading for ABCD, and indeed that's what this interesting film focuses on. ABCD takes us into the community of Indians living in suburban New Jersey, torn between the desire to succeed in the United States, and thus implicitly to become acculturated, and the desire to preserve their traditional culture and ties to India. Nina is a a rebel, the titular "ABCD" (American Born Confused Desi), dating white men, spurning traditional dress and flaunting her ignorance of her parents' culture; her brother Raj tries to fit their mother's idea of proper behavior, working hard and planning for a very traditional marriage. But neither Raj nor Nina have a firm grasp on any sense of cultural identity, whether Indian or American, and ABCD explores what happens as they struggle with making choices about what direction their lives should go in.
Although it gets off to a not-too-promising start, with a long series of dull credits and then a scene in which Anju, Raj and Nina's mother, is talking to herself about people we haven't met yet, ABCD soon picks up and maintains a good level of viewer interest throughout the film. The characters are all interesting and accessible, and the secondary characters are handled well, so that there's no confusion about who's who.
Director Krutin Patel does a nice job here of presenting a "slice of life" of the Indian immigrant community, showing that it's far from homogeneous. The United States is shown as a land of opportunity, but not without its pitfalls; Raj struggles with the possibility of racism at work, and Nina feels the pressure to be a traditional submissive Indian wife and mother lurking behind her dates with Asok, an Indian man whom she otherwise finds very attractive. Even Anju feels the uneasiness of existing on the boundary between two cultures, as she tries to orchestrate her children's lives to ensure that they will, in her estimation, be happy.
ABCD isn't totally polished. While the performances are for the most part very good, especially Madhur Jaffrey as Anju and Faran Tahir as Raj, the one exception is Sheetal Sheth as Nina. Her acting is satisfactory in any non-dialogue scenes; her body language and facial expressions do an excellent job of capturing Nina's rebellious spirit. However, her dialogue is often rather stilted, reminding viewers that she's speaking lines rather than simply speaking as her character. Structurally, ABCD could perhaps have used a bit more trimming; the 105-minute film doesn't drag, but a few of the scenes toward the end seem a bit tacked-on rather than truly essential. All in all, however, ABCD makes for a quite interesting evening's entertainment.
ABCD is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (at its original aspect ratio) that unfortunately is not anamorphically enhanced. The image is fairly soft; close-up shots look fine, but longer shots tend to be blurry and lack detail. Some small flaws appear here and there in the print, but on the whole it's in good condition. Colors look reasonable, with the image looking natural and having good contrast.
A Dolby 5.1 and a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack are included. The sound overall is satisfactory, offering a generally clear listening experience. At times the dialogue is a little flat-sounding, but on the whole it's fine.
Viewers who enjoy commentary tracks will be pleased to find an audio commentary for ABCD from director Krutin Patel and actors Faran Tahir and Aasif Mandvi. The other special features are nothing exceptional. A 17-minute making-of featurette is disappointing, as it's essentially promotional in nature; it's really not that interesting to have various members of the cast and crew tell us what the movie is about. Likewise, the "Recipes" section is a disappointment, as it turns out to be DVD-ROM content only.
Apart from these, we also get cast and crew biographies, a trailer and four TV spots for ABCD, and a set of previews for other Wellspring films.
ABCD takes an honest and compelling look at the conflicts of cultural identity for Indians in the United States, with an interesting story that follows Nina, who rebels against her family's traditions, and her brother Raj, who tries to uphold those same traditions. It's a generally well-constructed film, and worth taking a look at. Recommended.