Thursday, August 17, 2006


MISTRESS OF SPICES (fantasy romance)
Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Dylan McDermott and Ayesha Dharke
Director: Paul Mayeda Berges
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

The Movie Poster
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Aishwarya is Tilo, the psychic owner of a 'spice bazaar' outside San Francisco whose 'mission in life' is to use the magic of spices help her patrons with their problems. In flashbacks, we are told that she is one of many 'Mistresses of Spices' who are sent out all over the world on similar missions. There are 'rules' to her gift, though. She must use it only to help others and not for herself; she must not leave her shop; and she must not touch the skin of anyone.
Enter, a motorbike-riding hunk named Doug (Dylan McDermott) and one-by-one the rules start flying out of the window. The spices rebel, Tilo loses her 'magic' and...

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? We are supposed to 'ache' for her in her dilemma. Strangely, however, we don't. Neither do we see a 'happily-ever-after' on the horizon for Tilo and Doug. "Poor guy would be sick of Indian curry after the first month or so," we reckon.

HIGHLIGHTS: I like some of the subplots, though. They deal mostly with immigrants clinging to their culture in the US, like a grandpa (Anupam Kher) who has problems with his westernised granddaughter (Padma Lakshmi); and a taxi-driver named Haroun (Nitin Chandra Ganatra) who tries so hard pursuing the American Dream that he forgets his own heart. A black couple (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of TV's "Lost", and Caroline Chikezie) fills up the multi-racial cast but their story is barely developed.

LOWLIGHTS: For a movie about exotic spices, and starring former Miss World and Bollywood heart-throb Aishwarya Rai, this one turns out to be rather bland and even rancid at times. We can't possibly blame the spices or Aishwarya's performance. The spices are nice to look at and so is the ravishing Aishwarya, who is definitely the film's main attraction.
So let's put it down to a poorly developed script by Gurinder Chadha (based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni) and a shaky and uncertain helming by her husband Paul Mayeda Berges. What makes Mistress Of Spices even more of a letdown is that we had expected more from Ms Chadha, who had directed such charming movies as Bend It Like Beckham and Bride And Prejudice. This one is nice to look at but it's soul-less. It strives to be poetic but turns out uninspired.
Also, there is no chemistry between Aishwarya and McDermott; the fairy-tale element seems utterly childish and we would expect some sort of sacrifice for the sake of love on Tilo's part! The ending is a hastily-contrived compromise.

THE LOWDOWN: Fans of Aishwarya and Bollywood films may want to get a taste of this offering but they should not expect it to warm their hearts.


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