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The Mistress Of Spices

Aishwarya Rai, Dylan McDermott, Anupam Kher, Ayesha Dharker

india Updated: Apr 29, 2006 18:20 IST

It comes with the Gurinder Chadha tag, and it’s based on Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s acclaimed novel. Expect The Mistress Of Spices to guarantee a certain minimum quality and you can’t be blamed for it.

This time around Chadha isn’t wielding the megaphone. She collaborates as screenplay writer with screenwriter hubby Paul Mayeda Berges, who makes his directorial debut. As a first-timer’s attempt Mistress… doesn’t disappoint, though in a competitive multiplex market where debutant filmmakers have come up with everything from Crash to Being Cyrus of late, the movie does leave a lot to be desired.

You catch the intention of the film in its very first frame: This is all about selling Indian exotica in the western market. Not to be missed, in this context, is the casting of Chadha’s (post Bride And Prejudice) favourite Aishwarya Rai.

Physically, Ash is ethereal in every frame. That’s besides the point, actually: When has Ash, the star, not been a stunner on screen (the latest Lux ad included)?

Ash is Tilo, mistress of spices who is settled in the US. Tilo runs a store of spices. She uses her spices to set wrongs right and spread joy in the lives of her customers. For her magic to work she must obey certain rules, the chief of them being that she cannot give in to her own desires. Desire arrives in the form of Harley-riding stud Doug (Dylan McDermott). Tilo is torn between desire and duty.

In a broad sense, Mistress… reminds you of Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat. That’s also where you realise the film’s inherent flaw. Unlike the Johnny Depp-Juliette Binoche romance in Chocolat, the Ash-McDermott chemistry falls thanda. As an actor, Ash has never really managed much of on-screen vibes with co-stars ever. The problem is, this is one script that badly needed it.

If Mistress… is passable, it’s because of its quaint factor. But then, that’s
because it’s neither Bollywood nor Hollywood in its idiom.

First Published: Apr 29, 2006 18:20 IST