A scene from "Festival of Lights." (Handout )
Writer-director Shundell Prasad's "Festival of Lights" is a choppy, unconvincing drama that, for the record, has nothing to do with Hanukkah. It does, however, refer to the similarly dubbed Hindu holiday Diwali, which peripherally figures into this well-intended tale of an Indo-Guyanese family separated by sociopolitical strife.
A vaguely etched 1980-set opening finds the visa-impaired Vishnu (Jimi Mistry) forbidden from leaving a volatile Guyana with fleeing wife Meena (a strong Ritu Singh Pande) and their toddler daughter, Reshma. After a teary goodbye, Meena and Reshma fly off to live with relatives in New York City, where Meena finds janitorial work and a kindly boss, Adem (Aidan Quinn, at sea).
Flash-forward 14 years and a now-glamorous Meena is ensconced in upscale suburbia with second husband Adem, their young daughter, Sandy (Isabella A. Santos), and high school senior Reshma (Melinda Shankar). The latter has grown into such a surly tart that at one point Meena beats her with a shoe.
Still, Reshma pines for the dad she never really knew, and a soapy series of events lead her back to Guyana to find Vishnu, long-imprisoned for his involvement in an illegal immigration scheme.
The travel-heavy third act, which leapfrogs a host of key plot points, risibly defies logic and clarity as the film barrels toward its forced and sentimental conclusion.
"Festival of Lights." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo7, North Hollywood.