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  Publicity Stills of "Mistress of Spices"
Courtesy of GV

Genre: Romance/Drama
Director: Paul Mayeda Berges
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Dylan McDermott, Ayesha Dharker
RunTime: 1 hr 36 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 6 July 2006

Synopsis :

Tilo is an outsider from India who has to come to terms with her new country, America. She runs a spice store in San Francisco and has a magical gift of seeing into her customers' lives and desires. She gives them different spices to help them get what they want. In order for the magic to work, Tilo must obey the rules set out for a mistress - never leave the store, never touch another human, and love only the spices.

Movie Review:

The folks responsible for feel-good flicks such as Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice are now back again with their print to screen adaptation of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices.

For their previous movies, husband and wife team Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges both wrote the screenplays, with wife Gurinder Chadha also taking the reins of director. This time though, it is Berges who steps up to make his directorial debut.

This is a story very much one that is along the lines of Chocolat, only without as much as depth, charm and mystical qualities that made Chocolat such a wonderful film. As a member of an ancient Indian cult that worships spices of all sorts, Tilo (starring the beautiful Aishwarya Rai) who also has a natural gift to see in the near future, combines both her gift and the power of spices to help others. She sets up a spice shop in Oakland, San Francisco to do this, by selling or giving specific spices to heal all sorts of emotional and physical pains of the various customers that come into her shop.

Using the magic of spices has its rules however. As a mistress of spices, she has to abide by three cardinal rules. One, she cannot touch another person’s skin. Two, she cannot leave the shop and lastly, she cannot love any other but the spices. If she were to break any of the rules, the spices would punish her and basically make her life a living hell.

The movie has various subplots through the lives of her customers, but the main story line would be that of her relationship with a man named Doug (played by a scruffy looking Dylan McDermott). Their attraction for each other tempts Tilo to bend the rules and use the spices to her own advantage. As her love for Doug deepens, she begins to question her own devotion to the spices, which in turn threatens her ability to control and use the spices. In the end, she is forced to make a choice between the man she loves, and the spices she has worshipped for the most of her life.

This makes for a nice fluffy film, other than the fact that it is a little bit slow in certain parts, making those scenes seem melodramatic and cliché. The voice-over throughout the movie by Aishwarya Rai can get a bit irritating and unnecessary at times as she tells us her next choice of action in a scene. On the bright side though, thankfully, she has a nice soothing voice, and her acting is not bad as well. Dylan McDermott gives a fairly good performance here, and in many of their scenes, even manages to steal the lime light from her.

You can expect the usual east meets west issues here, ala Bend It Like Beckham, though the film would have probably worked better if less time were spent on the stories of her customers, and more on the character developments of her and Doug. The customers can be a bit of an interruption, and it leads the point away from the main story.

Also, certain scenes seem to provide you with unintentionally funny moments when it is trying to be serious, romantic or symbolic. Unlike Chocolat, this movie fails to convince you on the magical atmosphere of her shop and spices, and somehow, you’re just not quite convinced that spices can be used for such purposes.

Overall, this movie is nowhere near the standards of Chocolat in terms of cinematography and storyline, but it is enjoyable enough if you go in on this without too many expectations, and if you want to amuse yourself on the usefulness of what to do with your kitchen spices.

This movie isn’t as spicy as it’s made out to be. Watch it only if you like simplistic romantic flicks, eye candy and information on how to use spices to enhance your own life.

Movie Rating:

Review by Jolene Tan


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