How's that for a Monday Movie Review: A charming yet unlikely bite-sized crossover feature
Kaushik plays Shyam with an everyman yet practically understated vulnerability, worlds away from the theatricality we are used to receiving from our leading men
Little had prepared me for this film. The quote, “Do not judge a book by its cover” only exists because people, by default, do judge a book by its cover. The cover in this case is more like a suitcase. A film made in America by Indians. Telugu Indians, to be precise. Suitcases like these find a place for themselves in a transit lounge called the crossover. A little bit of India and the US mixed together, which also conversely means neither of both worlds is adequately present here, thus explaining the liminal nature of the crossover. But How’s that for a Monday, despite technically being a crossover film, does not remind one of many tales of the Indian immigrant experience (from Mira Nair to Mindy Kaling) regaled over the recent past. The fact that How’s that… expands beyond the inherent liminality of its format to soar into something more universal is the first of its achievements.
Director - Sripal Sama
Cast - Kaushik Ghantasala, Keegan Guy, Megan Barlow, Elester Latham, Candido Carter, Scott Young
At first glance, it feels like this story is leaning too much towards Uncle Sam than Bharat Mata. The Black Lives Matter movement that transpired in post-2020s America finds a mention in the intro card, alongside a prologue set by a billionaire on the East Coast on how History trumps material wealth. The different threads of the story, now on the West Coast, are unravelled in parallel before they merge into an overlapping narrative that comes together later with a cohesive, diffusive spirit. There are a band of robbers on the hunt for a dementia patient. His house is turned upside down, and his caretaker is assaulted. But the patient is nowhere to be found, with their only hope lying buried in an out-of-service tracker app. On the other side, we meet Shyam (Kaushik Ghantasala), a programmer, who utters the film’s title as a jolly phrase one time, only to find himself terminated. Earlier in the day, he sells some of his personal jewellery, to find money for a credit card payment. He tells his girlfriend that he failed to follow some investment wisdom laid down by Warren Buffett. There is also a poster of Steve Jobs in his sparse studio apartment. Later in the film, a quote by American firefighter Red Adair finds a mention. It is in this carefully planned and well-intentioned world that we see well-behaved telephone operators wreak havoc and counterfeit currency land up in unsuspecting hands. There is also a poignant moment where a character’s descent into senescence meets a culture’s selective, cruel obsolescence.
Shyam is an interesting person, full of relatable contradictions, never leaning too much towards coming off as likeable or unlikeable. He is smart aleck-y enough to work on a Sunday, but he also has a literal laundry list of debts he cannot get away from. He is not single, yet he is seen vibing along to Ilaiyaraaja’s Ontari Vadini Nenu at one point in his car. We see little of him as he is, and learn more about him as he reacts to the various curveballs this one cursed Monday throws at him. Kaushik plays Shyam with an everyman yet practically understated vulnerability, worlds away from the theatricality we are used to receiving from our leading men (pun intended). Elester Latham, Megan Barlow, Candido Carter and Keegan Guy form a competent quartet the film’s story comfortably rests on.
When Shyam walks out of his office with his belongings, we see a picture of him receiving a gold medal from the state governor back home, a move that eventually paved his way to a life in the United States. In a different moment, a character’s life does the opposite of taking off after getting a gold medal. There is no sentimentality of the immigrant experience in How’s that…, only droll poeticisms. Here, moving to a better country is not seen as a grandiose leap of faith, but rather as a process of pawning off one’s achievements, much like the gold Shyam gives away at the beginning of the film. The state of the country is introspected, not in the larger sense, revolving around lay-offs and capitalism (though there is some of that too), but rather in asking, whether people should be unlikeable but real or choose to be professionally polite for the sake of their jobs. The political messaging of the film (thankfully) isn’t too loud, but there is something effortlessly charming about presenting an Indian-American and an African-American as two peas in the same pod, as opposed to the conventional race narrative that pits one against the other, model minority and whatnot. What makes this effortless is the presence of history as an incidental aside. One of the bigger conflicts that emerge in the film’s latter portions questions the cost of owning a piece of history, and the unflinching largeness of that dilemma is a visceral, universal being.
How’s that for a Monday? has two halves. One comes with a set of short film-style satisfactions, where the co-incidences line up in a way that makes the viewer cognisant of writing done well. The other meanders around with philosophical outtakes before an elegant touchdown that places the joy of an active conscience over the contentments of material comfort. I doubt people will ever behave the way Shyam behaves in the last fifteen-ish minutes of the film in real life, but it is nice to know, to be reminded and reaffirmed of a world where meaning exists beyond money and where meaning exists for the sake of its own. Isn’t that what a lot of us strive for, Mondays notwithstanding?