Most movies about the pandemic have not directly addressed the actual illness of COVID-19, but most movies aren’t written and directed by real-life doctors. Over the last two years, independent filmmakers have risen to the challenges presented by smaller crews and daily testing, producing inventive takes on remote learning like “Language Lessons,” or provocative livestream thrillers like “Deadstream” and “Dashcam.”
But few have managed to show a character suffering from the effects of COVID, much less in a romantic comedy. Shot in a single location with a two-person cast and set during the first week of the pandemic, “7 Days” is a snappy and scrappy rom-com that doesn’t shy away from the human cost of COVID.
That’s entirely due to director and co-writer Roshan Sethi, who moonlights as an oncologist at one of the country’s top hospitals for nine weeks out of the year.
“It was really important to me at the time that we not look away,” Sethi said. “It was happening, and to make a work of art that pretended what was happening and affecting us all was not happening was really hard. …So we took a very natural world force that we were all contending with and thought about how it would affect these two people specifically.”
A first-time director and successful TV writer, Sethi has pursued Hollywood with the same intensity that took him from Harvard Medical School to his current job as a radiation oncologist at Boston’s prestigious Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He began his screenwriting career as a medical consultant, quickly ascending the ranks to co-create and EP “The Resident,” now in its fifth season on Fox. In medicine and moviemaking, hustlers gonna hustle.
“I came out really late in life at the age of 30, or what felt to me really late in life,” said Sethi. “I honestly think the reason I have two careers and so much ambition, too much ambition for one person, is because I’m gay. Because I felt so broken and unworthy from a young age. I was never pleased with anything I did, no matter what I achieved because of the fundamental issue I had, which is that I hadn’t come out.”
Shortly after coming out, he met his partner and co-writer on “7 Days,” actor Karan Soni. A likable and familiar character actor, Soni has racked up a range of credits over the last decades, in everything from cult indies like “Safety Not Guaranteed” to the TBS anthology series “Miracle Workers” to massive studio hits like “Deadpool” and “Office Christmas Party.” With his partner’s encouragement, Soni felt confident to pursue writing for the first time.
Soni brings an endearing nerd charisma as the film’s lead, Ravi, a sheltered teetotaler hoping to marry a nice Indian girl to make his mother happy. Too earnest for his own good, Ravi’s traditional worldview is suddenly challenged by Geraldine Viswanathan’s Rita, a free spirit who only agrees to the date to keep her mother off her back (and paying her rent). The title refers both to the period of time most arranged marriage couples have to get to know each other, and the time during which the strangers unexpectedly find themselves quarantined together. After premiering at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, the film went on to win Best First Feature at the 37th Independent Spirit Awards.
Soni notes he has often been the beneficiary of “colorblind casting” throughout his acting career, and relished the chance to play an Indian character written by an Indian person.
“I was really craving wanting to tell a more of an Indian story,” said the actor. “I get to improvise a lot in things I do, but I was never able to improvise my Indian experience. Because it wasn’t niche in this movie, I felt like I could use a lot of that stuff that I had never used, and I was really excited to tell a story from that perspective.”
Because of Sethi’s schedule at the hospital, the couple often operates at long distance for stretches at a time. The unusual circumstances in the film were obviously inspired by the pandemic, but also speaks to their experience as well as the experience of their parents.
“We’re both products of arranged marriage, so that had always been on our mind,” Sethi said. “And then ‘Love Is Blind’ had just come out. And we were thinking about what it is to fall in love with someone without seeing them, to talk through walls, to share things you wouldn’t otherwise share when you’re not personally and physically with the person. And then we were thinking about our own relationship and the fact that we were doing long distance.”
Shot on a shoestring budget, “7 Days” turned the constraints of the pandemic into a unique premise that upends the traditional rom-com while staying true to its roots. It’s a tender and funny portrayal of an odd couple that lets down their guard long enough to allow love in. Though the central couple is a straight one, the intimacy they share is informed by the love of the partners behind the scenes.
“Over the course of our love, I became interested in writing about love. And this movie sort of came about because of our relationship and because of the things we had been through as a couple,” said Sethi. “After I came out, I experienced a really amazing softening of my personality. Falling in love with Karan showed me that I can be a tender giving person and that my life doesn’t have to be so concerned with the ambition that I have. So now, I’m the chillest I’ve ever been.”
“Which is still — he has four jobs, but yes,” Soni added.
“7 Days” is in select theaters now.