Monday, May 23, 2011

Mirch Masala (1987)

The movies that try to recreate an era gone by always have a quaint charm irrespective of how good their content is. It is wonderful to be able to witness something that is way behind us, especially because most of these movies try to depict our historical roots and culture. Mirch Masala by Ketan Mehta- starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Deepti naval, Suresh Oberoi amongst others is a fine take on the pre-independence era when the exploitation of villages by tax-collectors was rampant. Naseeruddin Shah comes to this quiet Gujarati village to collect ‘Lagaan’ on behalf of his white-skinned masters. And with him comes his entourage- all of them intoxicated by the power and control they have over the poor villagers. Naseeruddin Shah- the ‘Maalik’- the ‘Saheb’- can do anything and everything- can get anything or anyone from the village to his liking to do his bidding.

The first half of the movie sets up the story very nicely. Although it is a bit slow, it is interesting to see the way the characters are established and the everyday chores of the village people are depicted. The story is set in a timeframe when women were by and large an oppressed lot and enjoyed little independence. In the mornings the women of the village are shown to work at a ‘Masala’ factory for a local ‘sahukaar’. The only source of entertainment for them is shown to be small get-together at night for a round of ‘Garba’. The delight on the faces of these women when they playfully engage themselves in this dance form is a wonderful testament on the doggedness of human spirit.

The story takes an interesting turn at about the halfway mark and the rest of the run-time is a fast paced narrative that is highly engaging and at the same time thought provoking. Tension is built up remarkably well using a simple linear plot structure despite being an ensemble cast film. The climax, despite being abrupt, is an apt way to culminate the story. The last shot and the expression on Smita Patil’s face perfectly epitomizes the core idea of the movie.

The performances by everyone are wonderful. I had always heard of Smita Patil being a great actress and this movie completely justifies her prowess. Naseeruddin Shah is menacing, and had the movie been a popular one- this would have gone down as one of the best villainous performance ever (the category often dominated by caricaturized, over the top characters).

Parting Note-Must Watch- this is one movie on women liberation that is not at all preachy- it has a story to tell and that is tells remarkably well J


  1. I watched the movie in the third year of college studying literature, cinema, culture etc. This Smita Patil movie, like most of her other movies, remained an iconic film for me and most people of my generation. The movie depicted feudal oppression and victimisation of women in a patriarchal set-up in a very convincing, realistic manner but what fixed the movie indelibly on the mindscape of a sensitive teenager was the power of female bonding to counter that (may sound like a cliche). For a female viewer, what was memorable was not only the hair-raising and menacing nature of that oppression, but the final scene where the women, led by the firebrand Smita Patil, unite to throw sackfuls of chillies on his face, thus making it a cultural artifact which finally privileged resistance over oppression.
    -Preeti Dewan

  2. Hi Chachi, good to see you here (and you too Parul :) )

    Interesting to know your point of view, and I completely agree- the last scene that you talk about truly epitomizes the spirit of the movie, and truly showcases the power of the womenfolk, and that to at a time when they were a truly repressed lot in, as you pointed out, a patriarchal society- amazing movie this one is-

    I am hoping to watch some other Smita Patil movies too soon,

    Thanks and Regards