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Mistress of Spices
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Mistress of Spices
Reviewer's Summary - Disaster

Language: English
Year: 4/28/06 in the U.S.
Actors: Aishwarya Rai, Dylan McDermott, Nitin Ganatra, Anupam Kher, Padma Lakshmi
Director: Paul Mayeda Berges
Producer: Gurinder Chadha & Deepak Nayar
Story: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Screenplay: Gurinder Chadha & Paul Mayeda Berges
Music: Craig Pruess

Mistress of Spices is awful to endure for viewers and an agony to contemplate for Aishwarya Rai fans.

Based on the novel of the same name by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Mistress of Spices packs as much entertainment value as a visit to an Indian grocery store in the Bay Area.

The biggest disappointment of Mistress of Spices is Aishwarya Rai's spiritless performance. This former Miss World fails to bring any verve and passion to her role of Tilo, the Mistress of Spices. After acting in over 30 movies, if this listless performance is all that Aishwarya Rai can deliver then she's playing a cruel hoax on her fans by staying in the showbiz world.

As for her principal co-star Dylan McDermott, the less said the better. Even Nitin Ganatra, usually a delight to watch, lacks his customary elan in the character of the Kashmiri cab driver Haroun.

Then there's the story. Despite a novel theme about the magical power of the various spices that the mistress of the spice store can use to help others, the book itself is a disappointing read. The story fails to evoke the dazzling magic that the theme promises.

Unlike in the book, the narrative is seldom smooth in the movie. Events happen without properly leading up to them.

Tilo (Aishwarya Rai) is sent to the San Francisco area by First Mother, the mystical priestess of an island,as the mistress of a spice store called Spice Bazaar. The spices, you see, have mysterious powers that Tilo can summon to help her customers ward off danger.

Methi, asafetida, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, red chili, lotus root, sesame and other spices all have their magical properties that Tilo can command to do good.

There are three cardinal rules, however, for the Mistress of Spices. Tilo cannot use the magical power of the spices for herself, she must not touch another person's skin and she should not step out of the store. As the First Mother expounds in the book, "when you lean out past what is allowed and touch what is not, when you step beyond the old rules, you increase the chance of failing a hundredfold."

But Tilo flouts all three rules drawing the wrath of the spices.

And how she strays from the prescribed path into proscribed terrain for the sake of some of her customers, and her love.

The unworldly Tilo falls in love with an architect Doug (Dyler McDermott) but is wary of arousing the fury of the spices. Her dilemma: can she stay true to both the spices and her love?

In the end, after giving herself to her lover a conflicted Tilo decides to forsake Doug for the spices and return to the island where the First Mother lives but love ....

Besides the love angle, the movie also crams in the side stories of Haroun, Geeta and the young Sikh kid Jagjit, characters that Tilo strives to help. But the side stories are not as well fleshed out in the movie as they are in the book. For those watching the movie without reading the book, the side stories might even be a little puzzling.

Padma Lakshmi (author Salman Rushdie's wife) is miscast as Geeta, the young granddaughter of Dadaji (Anupam Kher) in love with a Chicano. She looks too old for the role.

The movie diverges quite a bit from the book. Tilo is quite old in the book and not that good looking either.

With each new movie, the Gurinder Chadha-Paul Mayeda Berges team that delivered the fine Bend it like Beckham seems to be slipping further.

If Bride & Prejudice was bad, Mistress of Spices seems positively amateurish. If you haven't read the book, it might not even be easy to fully grasp this movie.

All in all, Mistress of Spices is a movie with all lows and no highs.

N.B: Watching this movie at the Naz 8 theater in Fremont, California was a terrible experience with the noise from another Hindi movie Humko Deewana Kar Gaye intruding into the hall showing Mistress of Spices. - Copyright

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