Entertainment

Geraldine Viswanathan & Karan Soni On Making '7 Days' During A Pandemic

The rom-com’s stars open up about their Spirit Award-winning film, now available to stream.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first started to ravage our nation, one couldn’t help but think about how the moment would influence art. Periods of great struggle have often coincided with periods of outstanding production, and as people holed up in their homes, left with nothing but time and pent-up energy, the reality that our dire circumstances would soon seep into our creative projects quickly began to settle in. It was easy to be cynical of the notion, especially as content about the pandemic began to roll out while the pandemic was very much still a concern. But every so often, a work emerged that seemed to hit a sweet spot — cognizant and realistic about the situation, but upbeat and imaginative enough to provide some form of temporary escape.

7 Days is one such film. Available on-demand later this month, after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival last summer, the short and sweet rom-com marks the directorial debut of Roshan Sethi, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside his partner (and the film’s star) Karan Soni. Telling the story of Ravi (Soni) and Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan, of Blockers and The Broken Hearts Gallery fame), the film centers on a date-gone-wrong — and given the film’s genre, it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that things just might end up going right by the end. Set up by their respective mothers, both hoping to see their children in traditional arranged Indian marriages, Ravi and Rita awkwardly move through a haphazard picnic, until a string of text message alerts notify them of a recently-implemented citywide lockdown. After retiring to Rita’s house, Ravi realizes that he has no way to get home, thereby forcing him to shack up with Rita for the night.

If the film presents an uncharacteristically sensitive portrait of pandemic-induced cohabitation, it’s at least partially because of the unique perspective of its writers. Though Sethi has spent his fair share of time in Hollywood, working on shows like CBS’ Code Black and FOX’s The Resident, he has also dedicated himself to work in a far different field: radiation oncology. Coincidentally, the writer/director’s residency fell concurrent with the onset of the pandemic, and eventually, he found himself spending time on the frontlines, treating people directly affected by it. After returning home to Soni, the pair found themselves feeling restless and desperate to create. They settled on the idea to write a screenplay, and soon, they were off-to-the-races, feverishly working side-by-side until they had completed an entire draft in five days. “When we were finished, we were like, ‘It’s actually not that bad,’” Soni jokes to me on a recent Zoom call.

Of course, writing a script is only part of the filmmaking process. And with the pandemic causing many other Hollywood projects to slow down (or shut down completely), getting to the next step — the actual filming — could have very easily proven quite difficult. And yet, ironically, the pandemic actually sped up production on 7 Days. According to Soni, soon after the script had been passed around, the Duplass Brothers came on board and wanted to start filming immediately. “Mark [Duplass] talks a lot about working on a project in the ‘honeymoon phase’ of the idea,” Soni says of the urgency. So rather than wait months or years for their idea to gestate and grow stale, everyone agreed that jumping right into production was the best-case scenario.

But what about shooting during the early pandemic? According to Soni and Viswanathan, many of the changes weren’t as bad as you’d think. In fact, both actors cited a slight preference for COVID-era filming. Though he missed the “air-conditioned trailers and whatever” that were regularly found on shows like Miracle Workers, Soni appreciated the streamlined schedule here. “There’s a lot less waiting,” he explains. “[On a TV set], I might show up at 6:00am but not work until 1:00pm, and then, not again until 7:00pm. On [the 7 Days] set, they would be snatching the breakfast out of her hands.” COVID production is “stripped down to the core of what we all got into this [industry] for,” Soni continues. “It was like a fever-dream. I was just acting my heart out.”

Viswanathan echoed these feelings, saying the pandemic filming experience “cuts out all the fat.” While she, too, sometimes missed the “fluffy” accouterments, she also liked the renewed focus on the work. “We were up on our feet and our brains were occupied the whole time,” she says. “It was fun to feel like we were all focused on making this movie together. We were fully in it the whole time.” And it all paid off. Just like the script, which was finished at whiplash speed, the shoot wrapped with surprising efficiency. 7 Days, hilariously, was completed in only eight.

Still, none of this would matter if the resulting film wasn’t good. And, perhaps, what elevates 7 Days is its specificity. Not simply a story about two strangers forced to cohabitate because of a harrowing pandemic, the film also serves as a love letter to Indian culture. Much of the conflict between Ravi and Rita revolves around their differences in adhering to Indian customs, whether that be abstaining from alcohol or avoiding meat. Ravi is the straitlaced member of the duo, a by-the-book “good boy” who follows the rules and prides himself on doing so. Rita, on the other hand, lives a double life, going on these arranged dates so her mother will pay her rent while secretly, well — drinking alcohol, eating meat, and having copious sex outside of marriage. But the film never judges either of them for their respective decisions, instead presenting both of their ways of life as fulfilling in their own unique ways. Like the best rom-coms, 7 Days posits that both Ravi and Rita can stand to learn a few things from the other before it’s all over.

That same grace is extended to the film’s depiction of arranged marriage, too. The decision to frame the story through this lens came about naturally, with Roshan Sethi reflecting on his own history going through the Indian matchmaking cycle before he came out as gay. Though the process produced “the weirdest stories,” per Soni, both writers found themselves inspired by the chance to subvert these expectations. “We’ve only really seen versions of this story from a very American, almost exclusively white POV, which often [makes arranged marriage] seem very barbaric or whatever,” Soni explains. “But my parents are still married and very happily in love!”

Viswanathan gravitated toward the script for this reason, too, but also felt that she could see herself reflected in many parts of Rita. “At the time, I was feeling quite bad, and low, and a little bitter — just hardened by the whole experience of COVID. My whole outlook on life was pretty much just: This is bleak. So I definitely related to some of her disillusionment and her loss of hope,” the actress tells me. “But then, also, she's just busting out and wants to hang with Daddy,” she exclaims only half-jokingly, referring to the mysterious married man (Mark Duplass) her character has secretly been having an affair with. “She's just trying to live her best life!”

Thankfully, both Soni and Viswanathan have enough on-screen chemistry to make their opposites-attract romance feel grounded and realistic. It’s a palpable camaraderie that can be felt between the pair even now, two years later, as they sit in separate rooms, talking to me through a trisected Zoom screen. As longtime cast-members of the criminally underrated TBS anthology comedy Miracle Workers, the two actors have known each other for a while, but due to the show’s ensemble nature, they hadn’t had many chances to work directly together in the same scenes. On 7 Days, however, they suddenly found themselves only acting opposite each other, whether they were dancing on camera for eight minutes straight to a Bollywood playlist (Geraldine’s favorite on-set moment) or fulfilling their fantasies of doing “really bad standup” (Karan’s favorite). “This was a chance for us to really work together in a cool way,” Soni says.

What’s also cool? The film’s surprise win for Best First Feature at the 2022 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Up against indie juggernauts like Wild Indian and Test Pattern, the 7 Days team was not expecting to win that night. It’s why none of them were sober when it came time to give an acceptance speech. “I should start by apologizing to Geraldine because I was very drunk. I was messy drunk,” jokes Soni when asked about the moment he heard his film announced as the category’s winner. Viswanathan concurs. “Yeah, he totally got wasted,” she laughs. “And he’s rarely drunk, so when I get a glimpse of it, it’s heaven. I was absolutely egging it on.”

The entire experience felt surreal, not least because of the circumstances they endured to complete the film in the first place. “We made this movie with very little money, and the Spirit Awards is such a fancy Hollywood event,” Soni explains. “The whole time, we were just like, This does not feel like the experience we had making this movie.’” But, hey, that’s Hollywood!

7 Days is now available to stream on VOD.