“Have a Nice Life,” Indian American writer/director Prashanth Kamalakanthan’s first feature film, which had its North American premiere at the Maryland Film Festival May 23, follows a young, lost stoner musician and an Indian American housewife in an unhappy arranged marriage.
Shot mostly in North Carolina, where Kamalakanthan grew up after immigrating from Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, “Have a Nice Life” is a road trip comedy tracing the unlikely friendship between Jyothi, a lonely Telugu housewife (played by the director’s mother, Jagathi Kamalakanthan), and Sophie, an unemployed stoner musician (Lucy Kaminsky). After hitting dead ends in life, the pair meet by chance at a pawn shop and soon find themselves on the run from the law, together on a wild American road trip, from Durham, North Carolina, to Montreal, Canada.
It is executive produced by Jake Perlin and Andrew Adair of Cinema Conservancy.
“As a first-generation Indian American filmmaker whose family arrived in America with nothing but our clothes and a relative’s floor to crash on, I’m proud to have written a story about the America that I know, starring women the likes of which have never led a film, anywhere,” said Kamalakanthan, who wrote, directed, and edited the feature.
Mixing a cast of known American indie talents with first timers, the film represents swaths of American society rarely seen on-screen, he said.
The film features soundtrack of retro Indian pop and global psychedelia and even contains a full-blown, Bollywood-style original dance sequence, replete with a crew of backup dancers.
“Initially, I was doubtful. Would I be able to do it? I had my work as a soil agronomist,” recalled Jagathi Kamalakanthan. “But I enjoyed every day of it. My favorite was driving around with Lucy, my co-star. It was like a rollercoaster, scary and thrilling but also funny. Every day was a new adventure — and I only got the script each morning!”
The cast and crew lived and worked together out of the Kamalakanthan family home.
“When Jyothi sings in the dance number, ‘Oh Sophie, how far are we?’ Sophie’s response is, ‘You’re right here near me.’ That’s really the spirit we tried to capture with this film. We drew our closest friends, family, and artistic community around us, and we went on this strange trip together,” added Prashanth Kamalakanthan, who studied film first at Duke University and then at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.