The Cast and Crew of ‘7 Days’ on Reliving Quarantine as a Romantic Comedy
The COVID-19 pandemic spawned its own genre of sorts: the quarantine film, which examines the bizarre, disorienting early days of the crisis as people confined themselves to their homes. In this realm of sometimes heavy movies, one of the lightest and most charming is “7 Days,” which uses this setup for an opposites-attract rom-com.
Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan star as Ravi and Rita, two polar opposites who are set up on a pre-arranged date by their traditional Indian families in early March, 2020. The date goes extremely poorly, but the two are forced to quarantine together for the first few days of the pandemic in Rita’s home, and as they spend more time together, they slowly develop a genuine friendship that shows the potential to blossom into something more.
Soni wrote the script for “7 Days” with his real life partner, director Roshan Sethi, during the earliest period of quarantine, when they were living on separate sides of the country. Frustrated over their long distance relationship, the two wrote the film together in an attempt to capture the loneliness and disconnection of the time. Sethi, a radiation oncology resident at a hospital in Boston, based the script loosely on his own experiences in COVID wards during the first four days of the pandemic. After finishing the script, they recruited Viswanathan, who stars with Sethi in the TBS anthology comedy series “Miracle Workers,” and shot the film at breakneck speed over the course of only eight days in September 2020. The resulting film is a low-key charmer, one that won Sethi best first film at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards.
With the film currently out on VOD, Variety chatted with Soni, Viswanathan and Sethi about the challenges of shooting the film in eight days, finding the proper balance between lightness and seriousness in a COVID story and telling a uniquely Indian film.
This film was shot pretty early in the pandemic. Was it emotionally difficult to relive that first week?
Viswanathan: Weirdly enough for a movie that’s about COVID, that’s set in COVID and made during COVID, it was kind of really a beacon of light in such a dark time for us, because we got to just be in a room together and collaborate on something. It felt really, really good to be back on set, even our nine-person, horse-filled set.
Soni: Yeah for me, I was just so happy to be working again creatively, because it really felt at that point like we were not going to film anything. And now it feels so normal to film during COVID, but it really felt like,’ I don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ So I really was mourning the loss of being able to perform and so that to me, I was like, ‘I’ll do any scene I don’t care.’
Whose house did you shoot in?
Sethi: We looked at a casita that turned out to be very boring, but the lady who led us to the casita said, ‘Do you want to see my house? It’s quite something.’ She told us that she had always felt like her house deserved to be in a movie. We entered her house and it was just psychotic. There were horses everywhere. And she had accumulated just a lifetime’s worth of detritus. There was dust so thick that when we later had to act there, we had to just wash the dust right out of our hair. But anyways, the moment we saw it, we were like, ‘Well, let’s do this because it’s not going to be boring.’ We were dealing already with the challenge of shooting in a single location, where it’s likely to be visually redundant, but the nature of that house and the way that it was decorated and conceived was that it was not going to be boring, no matter how you shot it.
How did you guys develop the relationships between the two main characters? They have that classic rom-com arc where initially they can’t really stand each other, but eventually they grow closer. How did you mimic that in your own chemistry?
Soni: Going in, I was trying to remember, “You are not comfortable with this person.” Because we’ve worked together and lived in other cities together, because we shot our show in Atlanta and Prague, so we have years of bonding together. And it was really fun to actually get to act with her in this kind of tone, because our show is often described as like a live-action cartoon, so it was a chance for us to really dig in and work on something a little bit different in tone than our show.
Viswanathan: I think it starts off with us really channeling just our energies as friends with each other. That felt really natural, I think as the circumstances start to become more dire, I think the love starts to blossom from a very real deep place of care and health. So yeah, I think in developing the chemistry, it came pretty naturally for us. We just trusted that it was there.
Did you have any rom-com inspirations while you were fleshing out the dynamic of the characters?
Sethi: I think a lot of their dynamic is taken from our relationship, actually, Karan is playing a heightened version of himself. And I guess I’m Rita. But, the romcoms we love are “When Harry Met Sally” and for you ––
Soni: “You’ve Got Mail.” But also I love Bollywood rom-coms because I grew up in India and watched a lot of Bollywood. And one of them, “Kal Ho Naa Ho,” which is heavily referenced in the movie, is one of my favorites.
Can you tell me more about how the dynamic in the film mirrors your own relationship?
Sethi: In the beginning, because I had just come out at the age of 30, I had a lot of trouble expressing affection or receiving affection. And I was in the mode that I spent most of my 20s which is as a fairly cynical, aggressive person. That was a personality that actually wasn’t mine naturally, it was something I had molded to protect myself and distract myself from the truth, which is that I had lied every day for two decades about my sexuality. So I was still in the middle of confronting all that when I met Karan who had come out 10 years before, and was much comfortable, though not fully comfortable, in his sexuality. And he was just a fountain of affection, just thirsty. And I was, in the face of that overflowing love, quite impassive. So over the course of it though, I became increasingly tender, which is my real personality, that I’m really kind of soft and ridiculous and not hard at all. And now I just trail behind him like a lost puppy all day. My real nature.
There are a ton of scenes that are essentially just a character either on a video conference with someone else, or talking to someone on the phone. How’d that work logistically and how do you make that visually interesting?
Soni: Those are the hardest scenes to do, because often you’re not reading with the actual actor. A lot of times a PA would be reading. If the writing is good, the hope is that it all works when you act it out. But the Zooms were all shot live. So there was often a camera on me, like a film camera and then we were recording the Zoom and another camera was recording the laptop. We would text them like “we just finished another scene and now we’re ready for your scene.” It was psychotic, but they were really game to help us with that.
Mark Duplass voices Rita’s boyfriend in the film. Geraldine, did you actually meet Mark before he voiced the character?
Viswanathan: I hadn’t met Mark yet. I think we knew that he was going to voice Daddy. We had another friend from “Miracle Workers,” John Bass, who recorded those lines for us and I played off of that. Mark came in later.
The film is mostly pretty lighthearted, but it does eventually develop a more serious tone when Rita develops COVID. How do you balance that lightness with the darkness of the situation?
Sethi: We tried not to lose the comedy entirely in the second half, there are still comedic moments there. But we had to have them face an obstacle, and this one felt like the most natural because the things we were concerned with were loneliness and disconnection. And especially for me working in the hospital, it felt irresponsible for art to look the other way. Like it’s happening. It’s real, it continues to happen. And it’s nice, on one hand, to not exist in that reality when you’re watching something, but on the other hand, it feels slightly irresponsible.
The movie deals a lot with the culture of arranged Indian marriages, but I would say it has a pretty nuanced take on it. How’d you guys want to portray it?
Sethi: We’re [Sethi and Soni] both products of arranged marriages and have grown up in their shadow, so we wanted to show both the good and the bad sides. Their conception of love is so different than the Western conception, because the Western conception that you receive from rom-coms is that love is something that happens to you, and it happens with the person who is perfectly compatible with you. Whereas the Indian notion of love is that it’s something that’s more practical that you can build with almost anyone and you have to continue building it, like Karan and I do every day. We were interested in trying those two different versions of love because they each have something to say. The truth, I think, is somewhere in the middle.
Aside from Mark Duplass, sort of, the film features a pretty much completely Indian cast. Was that refreshing for you all to work on?
Viswanathan: Even being at the Indie Spirit Awards together, and we were just seeing all these Indians on stage like, this is awesome, and I feel so happy to be part of this. When I do anything about ethnicity or culture or race, I really only want to do that when the people in charge of the project are of that race or ethnicity and have that kind of first hand experience with it. So it felt really nice to feel that the community was so strong.
Soni: I’ve gotten to do a lot of color blind casting. Which is great too, because you just get to work on something good, that you’re right for, but I was really wanting to tell more Indian stories. I like to try to improv a lot if they allow it, and I’ve never been able to do my Indian improv, which is all these references and things that I grew up with because it just would never fit into the project. So it was really exciting to get to explore that part of my life in a character. We didn’t intentionally say “we want an almost entirely Indian cast.” It was just what the story naturally was. So it was really fun to get to work with all these other actors we wouldn’t have maybe otherwise. And then the great Mark Duplass is Daddy.
Sethi: Yeah, it transcends race.
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