Two years after the outbreak of COVID-19 engulfed the planet, the sample size of films produced in the pandemic continues to grow. Those made during the first and second waves tend to share some common attributes: namely limited casts and locations. It’s a challenge that takes no small amount of talent, magic, or some combination of the two to overcome. In some films you can feel those restrictions. It struggles to keep you engaged and to distract from the realities of the production and the world at large. The best ones have the inertia to carry you along, distracting from the circumstances in which it was produced. One strategy is avoidance –simply set the film in a world where COVID-19 doesn’t exist and attempt to stitch it tight enough that the seams don’t show. Boldly, 7 Days doesn’t shy away from the restrictive circumstance, rather it’s integral to the plot. But like the pandemic itself, the novelty of quarantine wears off and a somber restlessness takes hold.
Directed by Roshan Sethi, and written by Sethi and star Karan Soni, 7 Days ingeniously sets a screwball comedy in the immediate lockdown days of the pandemic. The secret ingredient of the alchemy is injecting the specificity of Indian diaspora dating culture. The freshness of that perspective and the magnetic performances of Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan make for an irresistibly engaging time, until the story takes a tragic turn and the fizzy fun turns flat.
Ravi (Soni) and Rita (Viswanathan) are on a date prearranged by their traditional Indian parents. Their date happens to take place on the same day the world begins to shut down because of COVID-19. When Ravi’s flight is cancelled, Rita begrudgingly agrees to let Ravi crash at her place until he can find a way back home. Ravi is the nebbish, fastidious mama’s boy; dutifully adhering to the strict expectations of his traditional parents. Rita is, well, not. She plays the role in order to appease her parents but otherwise leads a completely westernized lifestyle, is messy, and having an affair with a married man. A series of COVID-related inconveniences traps Ravi at Rita’s house forcing the two into discordant cohabitation.
Their odd couple dynamic is joyfully gripping. Both Soni and Viswanathan have done their fair share of comedy and shine as they trade off playing the comedic foil to each other. Their chemistry is intoxicating and necessary to a feature length film that has fewer principal cast members than many have vaccination shots.
When Rita’s old fashioned rouse is revealed, she and Ravi begin to clash. The two debate the pros and cons of their lifestyles, both self-assured with their chosen paths—or perhaps more uncomfortable with the others’. Like any good screwball comedy, the Oscar and Felix characterizations give way to the dialectic as the two begin to rub off on each other. The lesson, as always, being that happiness is somewhere in the middle. That’s when things drop off.
With Ravi and Rita’s relationship humming along, the momentum is comes crashing down as things take a tragic turn. The impressive feat of the film almost completely consisting of the two actors is challenged even further when they are split up. The energy generated by their interactions dissipates and the film’s momentum grinds to a halt. Though a quarrel between the two leads typically downshifts the plot, the replacement for this trope becomes cloying. The subversion reaches for pathos but ends up being just a bummer. Interactions exclusively take place over video chat, further draining the pool of goodwill earned in the film’s first half.
Sethi and Soni conceived the project when the pandemic halted most productions. The two wanted to create something for themselves they could accomplish given the restrictive nature of COVID production. They wrote the script in five days and shot the entire film in eight with COVID testing eating up 20 percent of their budget.
The film is a reflection of the quarantine experienced by many. The horror of the outbreak forced the world into isolation. We tried to make the best of our new restricted lives, finding a surprising amount of joy and fulfillment in baking and binging. We acclimated to video chats and social bubbles. The novelty was charming until it wasn’t. The reality became wearisome, which is also the case when the film leans away from its delightful escapism.
Unevenness aside, 7 Days is an impressive feat of COVID cinema. Sethi and Soni found gold where many have come away with pyrite. I’m looking forward to another effort from the two that further explores their second generation experience and imbues classic genre with their loving satire. Especially since they’ll have a bit more time to work things out.Watch 7 Days