Sunday, 4 October 2009


“Our hearts where they rocked our cradle,
Our love where we spent our toil,
And our faith, and our hope, and our honour,
We pledge to our native soil.
God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Beloved over all.” - Rudyard Kipling

I watched a movie at the hotel last night, which was pleasant enough although not great film-making nor was it an outstanding script. Nevertheless, it kept up interest and the lead was beautiful to look at. It was Paul Mayeda Berges’s 2005 film “Mistress of Spices”. It starred the famous Bollywood beauty, Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott as the romantic leads, although the chemistry between them was not all that great. Nitin Ganatra, Anupam Kher, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Zohra Seghal gave good supporting perfomances.

The film is based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and is a mystical, magical romantic story that plays like a modern fairy tale. We are first taken to India where a baby girl is born to a poor family, who only regard her birth as a future dowry-debt. However, as the child grows up, her parents realize that she has special powers that enable her to find lost things as well as foretell the future. Bandits learn of her existence, and in their quest for wealth, abduct her, but she manages to escape and lands on a shoreline where a woman is teaching young girls how to be “Mistresses of Spices”. She is taken into this group, and named Tilo (Sesame). She becomes a Mistress of Spices, and like all others must follow three rules for all her life: Look after desires of others; never leave the spice store; and never touch anyone else's skin. When she grows up, she is put in charge of a store, the “Spice Bazaar” in San Francisco. There she begins to dispense her spices helping people’s lives. We are immersed in her interactions with older Indian man called Dada, a man named Kwesi, a woman called Myisha, a taxi-driver named Haroun, the teenager Jagjit and his mother, as well as a man named Doug and later his girlfriend. She prepares special spice mixtures for them to improve their lives. Tilo soon begins to be attracted to Doug, breaking the first rule; she also leaves the store to visit Haroun, and she starts to feel - thus breaking all the sacred rules.

I was reminded a little of the film “Chocolat” with Juliette Binoche by this film. However, this film deals with the problems of cultural clashes and the spices are metaphor for the culture of the “old country” which one must compromise in order to live fully a fulfilling life in the “new country”. The conflict between duty and filial love, with the more egotistical desires of self-fulfilment and romantic love are contrasted. As Tilo begins to break the rules the vindictiveness of the spices is shown with not only Tilo suffering, but also her formerly happy customers paying the price of her non-compliance.

McDermott looks uncomfortable right throughout the movie and it is really Aishwarya Rai who carries the film, looking very luscious and doing much acting with her eyes and face. Those who are not fans of voice-overs may find the extensive use of this device a trifle tiresome, but I did not mind it too much. As most of the film takes place inside the spice shop (remember Tilo is forbidden to come out of it), the director makes the most of the rich colours and interesting shapes and textures of the spices. However, the close-ups of the chilli peppers were a bit hackneyed and overused after about three times…

The concept of spices being used medicinally and for mental problems is not too far fetched with traditional Indian Ayurvedic and Islamic Unani medicine using all of these spices therapeutically. Overall I found the movie a little too simple, its character development almost non-existent, the plot too thin, and the chemistry between the leads weak. However, it was pleasant enough to watch and if the book falls into my hands I think I would rather like to read it and see whether it is in fact better.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an interesting movie, but now that I have read your review, I think I would rather read the book...
    The Indian beauty in the illustration is gorgeous. I take it this is the star.