May 14, 2006
Just one month back, I had said that we need movies like Being Cyrus which are different in terms of characterization and treatment. Cinema for the multiplex audience. I figured this one would be something on the same lines. Moreover this was touted as Aishwarya’s foray into international cinema. The scathing reviews did seem ominous however being a loyal fan; I decided to check out Mistress of Spices.
The story follows the age old depiction of India as a land of forests and mystic spices. It talks about an ancient art of medication through herbs and spices. Tilo (Aishwarya) is one of the students of the same and learns the secret of the spices. There are however certain rules to being a mistress of spices: you must not use the spices for your own desires; you must not leave the spice store at any time and you must not touch another skin. With these preconditions, Tilo is sent to USA to set up shop. She has a loyal bunch of customers whose problems she can foresee. However temptation arrives in the form of Doug (Dylan McDermott), an architect. Tilo finds herself getting distracted and tempted to break the rules. By doing so she risks losing her powers of reading fortunes and ‘the spices not talking to her’. How does she deal with the dilemma?
Inspired by a book by the same name, it is ideal for foreign audiences who like to think of India as the land of magic and naked fakirs. But if you are someone living in Mumbai, you wonder which era this movie depicts. Surely it cannot be the present as the customers are still hung up on mystic charms of spices to carry on their lives. It cannot be the past as their appearance and problems are of today’s times. Therefore we can only assume this is a unique world existing in Tilo’s spice bazaar which is stuck in time zero. And while showing the Indian tradition of treating your guests like God is fine, is it necessary to tell us about each of their lives in full detail. The viewer is not interested in knowing about their problems in depth unlike Tilo. The climax is also quite bizarre.
Dylan McDermott looks and behaves more like a movie star than an architect. He has the same set of expressions for most of the movie. Anupam Kher plays a dinosaur who is unable to come to terms with the actions of his ‘modern’ granddaughter. His character seems more apt for some remote village in Haryana rather than USA. What was Padma Laksmi doing in this movie, beats me. If she was selected to add glamour and sex appeal to the cast that too fails. Aishwarya tries her best to make a performance out of her scratchy role. However by the end of the movie she looks as confused about her surroundings as the audience. Santosh Sivan’s cinematography is the only saving grace of the movie and adequately captures Aishwarya’s beauty.
One of the golden rules of film production is the marketing aspect. While much has been argued about commerce overtaking art in this respect, there is some merit in promotion. Sometimes it is the last resort of a mediocre film. Unfortunately ‘Mistress of Spices’ performs poorly here, at least in India. The post production was non existent, the promos began to be aired 10 days before the release, there was no publicity from its actors…. the list goes on. So much so, very few people were aware of the movie releasing alongside biggies like Ice Age-2 and Pink Panther. Perhaps the producers were relying heavily on word of mouth publicity. Is it a surprise that the movie found no takers?
Mr Berges, next time you make a movie, please see ‘Bend it like Beckham’. Sometimes simple stories with small actors also work wonders.
- Suprateek Sinha