“Growing up Smith” is a coming-of-age story of a 10-year-old Indian boy living in the United States in the 70s. The story is narrated by grown up Smith, played by Samrat Chakrabarti, as he heads down memory lane of his early childhood in America trying to maneuver the thin line between two cultures because, like all immigrants in the U.S., Smith’s parents wanted the American dream without losing their roots. They even gave him an “American name” so they could truly live the American dream, unfortunate for Smith, “Smith” was a common American last name, not a first name.
“Growing up Smith” gives us a realistic portrayal of how hard it is for the children and teens of immigrants to find the right balance. Kids want to fit in with their friends, but please their parents at the same time. Smith and his older sister Asha face the same issues. Though it seems that Asha has a better handle at finding a balance with tricks like lying to her parents about studying when she’s really going out with her boyfriend—a line all of us have used. Sadly, little Smith has a harder time adjusting when all he wants to be is a good old American boy.
Smith finds a hero in his neighbor Butch Brunner (played by Jason Lee) and his first love in Butch’s daughter Amy (played by Brighton Sharbino.) The story beautifully depicts the loving friendship between Smith and Butch as well as the young love of Amy and Smith. These two relationships become a large part of the type of man Smith becomes. Smith learns how to make friends, faces bullying from a few classmates, finds love in Amy, finds courage when Butch takes him hunting, builds confidence when he saves Butch on their hunting trip, realizes how precious a life is when he kills a squirrel, is threatened with banishment by his parents, and learns the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
“Growing up Smith” is such a heartfelt and realistic story, everyone will be touched by the story of little Smith. Smith and Asha’s relationship with their parents is a scene from every South Asian home. Smith’s father has already arranged his children’s marriage and expects Smith to grow up to be a doctor, of course, what else do South Asian parents expect. The film is filled with moments that will feel like it’s a snapshot of your own life! Like when Smith’s mom makes him a Halloween costume which he expected to be Darth Vader but it was, unfortunately, a Ganesh costume—not exactly hip and cool to a 10-year-old. As the daughter of a South Asian immigrant, I can’t tell you how many years my mother put me in a lehenga and a $1 shop tiara and told me I was an “Indian Princess” for Halloween.
The film is filled with moments that will feel like it’s a snapshot of your own life! Like when Smith’s mom makes him a Halloween costume which he expected to be Darth Vader but it was, unfortunately, a Ganesh costume—not exactly hip and cool to a 10-year-old. As the daughter of a South Asian immigrant, I can’t tell you how many years my mother put me in a lehenga and a $1 shop tiara and told me I was an “Indian Princess” for Halloween or told me I’ve failed in life because I’m not a doctor.
Actor Roni Akurati is adorable as little Smith Bhatnagar. Anjul Nigam plays the perfect overbearing Indian father with intelligent and sweet Poorna Jagannathan as the mom trying to help her kids adjust. All the actors performed brilliantly, but it’s Akurati and Jason Lee who really steal the show with their unlikely relationship. Actor Anjul Nigam is quite a talented man as he is also co-producer and co-writer for the film.
From the dialogues, and background score, to editing, costumes, and sets, the film was on point with everything. The film had laughs, tears, some subtle drama and even some romance. It was just so accurate and real it will be a story that resonates with you and stays with you after. Personally, it really hit home for me because Smith’s struggles were things I’ve faced as well. In about an hour and 40 minutes you’ll have passed through a lifetime and at the end of the film, I was still waiting for more. I didn’t want the film to end—yes, it was that good!
So what’s the verdict? A shining 4/5 stars for sure!
A must watch, especially for South Asian immigrants and their children, it really is a slice of masala flavored life!