Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Film Mississippi Masala (Mira Nair, 1991)

I saw Mississippi Masala when it first came out in 1991 and enjoyed this unique tale of a family of Indian background living in Uganda. Just back from a lovely short vacation in Italy last night, I found this film playing tonight as part of a Women in the Americas film series through Duke University's Screen Society.

In the film, the family is portrayed as having been in Uganda for decades and considering it home - many Indians had been brought by the British during colonial times. Their daughter, Meena (Sarita Choudhury), was born in Uganda. During Idi Amin's rule (1971-1979), "foreigners" were harrassed and, after a dream in which he claimed that God commanded him, on August 4, 1972 Amin ordered the tens of thousands of Asians in Uganda to leave within ninety days.

The film, comfortably paced, shows the family's leaving their beloved home and settling into hotel and alcohol businesses in small-town Greenwood, Mississippi. The father, Jay (Roshan Seth), is heart-broken and, a lawyer himself, obsessively writes to the Uganda government demanding restitution. Jay's wife Kinnu (Sharmila Tagore, along with other actors in the film having a long and well-established career, such as playing leading roles in Satyajit Ray films like Devi from 1960 and Apur Sansar from 1959) is shown with a calm and pragmatic disposition, urging Jay to make the best of their new life.

Meena literally runs into the handsome Demetrius Williams (a young Denzel Washington) in a minor car accident. On a second chance encouter, they begin to develop interests in each other. Their innocent attraction raises racial tensions, resulting in implications to Demetrius' heretofore successful rug-cleaning business and feelings of honor in both families.

Though I didn't enjoy seeing the film as much the second time around, it's a winner with a great cast. The music is good (I bought the soundtrack soon after seeing it the first time), with Indian, African, Blues, and early rap-oriented tunes. Mira Nair is a fabulous storyteller; though I didn't like her popular Monsoon Wedding (2001), her earlier Salaam Bombay! (1988) was an emotional (and often hard to see - I closed my eyes twice!) and powerful film, and I also enjoyed her Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996). One of my favorite novels is Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, and I'm delighted that Mira Nair has just released a film based on the novel (not yet generally released - can't wait!).


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