“ Genre: Romance / Theatrical Release: 2005 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Paul Mayeda Berges / Actors: Aishwarya Rai, Dylan McDermott, Anupam Kher, Ayesha Dharker, Nitin Chandra Ganatra ... / DVD released 2006-08-14 at Entertainment in Video / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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Born in India to poor parents, it is soon discovered that Tilo has special powers - she can foresee the future. After being kidnapped by bandits, she escapes, and is raised by a magical lady, who teaches her the secrets of spices. When she grows up, Tilo moves to San Francisco, where she manages a spice shop, and mixes up to help her customers. As a Mistress of Spices however, there are rules that cannot be broken - she cannot use the power of the spices for her own means, she can never leave the store and she can never touch another person's skin. This causes a problem when she meets and falls in love with an American architect, Doug. Suddenly, she begins to lose power over her spices and her customers suffer in consequence. What will she choose? Her spices, or Doug?
Tilo is played by Aishwarya Rai and is probably the most beautiful leading actress that I have ever seen. She is flawless, with gorgeous eyes, perfect skin and a lovely figure. Unfortunately, she either isn't the best actress in the world, or she wasn't given the opportunity to show us what she is made of. Tilo is, frankly, dull, because all she does is drift around her shop looking gormless. She tries to act with her eyes, but it doesn't quite work, and after a while, I found her slightly annoying. I also struggled to believe in the chemistry that she had with Doug. We are led to believe it was love at first sight on her part, but she begins to look unbalanced at times, whereas I think she was probably going for quirky and adorable.
Dylan McDermott plays Doug and is utterly divine to look at. His acting is competent, but to be fair, he doesn't really have all that much of a role. He appears in the shop at regular intervals and is clearly beginning to fall for Tilo, but there is no depth to the character. I liked him and will definitely look out for him again for eye candy if nothing else, but his acting didn't bowl me over. I was pleased to see Nitin Ganatra as Tilo's friend Haroun. Better known as Masood from Eastenders, he adds a touch of comedy to the film - I just wish he had appeared more often. The British soap opera theme continues with Ayesha Dharker (Tara from Coronation Street) who plays Haroun's neighbour. Again though, she could have brought a lot more to the proceedings had she been given the chance.
One thing I love to visit when I go abroad is the local food markets - especially in areas where they sell lots of spices and other interesting foodstuffs. That was what attracted me to this film, and visually, it certainly provided me with what I was looking for. The perfect red chillis were eye-catching and the range of earthiness of the powdered spices was lovely, especially with Tilo in her colourful saris in front of them. Unfortunately, after the first half hour, it simply wasn't enough to retain my interest. The problem is that Tilo rarely leaves the shop and the visual side of things just doesn't change. There are only so many red chillis and piles of spices that I can admire before I start to need a little bit more. Unfortunately, that wasn't really to come.
The story ought to be original - I certainly can't think of another film revolving around the power of spices before. Nevertheless, there are some similarities to Chocolat - the whole magical power of food and love, for example - but it pales in comparison. There was little explanation as to why Tilo had such powers and it ended up feeling like it was just an attempt to make the film seem original and to cover up the fact that the story was virtually non-existent. The film is based on a book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which I haven't read, so have no idea how it translated over, but as a film, the content was too minimal to make a real difference. Even the love affair was boring - just a few shots of the happy couple on a motorbike and then some carefully concealed shots of them having sex.
It sounds as though I hated the film, but I didn't - it is watchable and should keep most women and some men entertained for a couple of hours. And I did like the whole East meets West theme - having had Asian boyfriends in the past, it is something that really interests me. However, I don't think enough time or energy went into looking at cultural differences - it is hinted at, but more in the relationship between one of Tilo's customers' granddaughter and her boyfriend than it is between Tilo and Doug. The film just ends up feeling rather light-weight and pointless. If they wanted to make a love story out of it, then that's what they should have gone for, rather than padding it with spices and mysticism.
There are no extras with the DVD that I have, so this is a film only review.
I really wanted to like this film a lot more than I did. It is visually pleasing and the two lead characters are positively gorgeous to look at, but I need a bit more than that in a film. I think it's worth a glance if it's on television, but I certainly don't think it's worth anyone going out of their way to get hold of a copy. Ultimately it's fluff dressed up and pretending to be something it's not. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 92 minutes
Tilo runs a spice store in San Francisco called Spice Bazaar. She is a Mistress of Spices and must live according to the rules she was taught by her mentor - she mustn't physically touch another human being, she mustn't leave her store and she mustn't use the spices for her own benefit. She has regular customers who come to her for spices to fix things that are not well in their lives. All is going well with the spice shop and Tilo's life until Doug comes into her life; a handsome architect with his own issues that need resolving. The problem is, though, that they have a mutual attraction which is dangerous for Tilo and everyone who trusts in her "magic". Will Tilo stay faithful to her spices? Will she venture out into the big bad world and risk a romance with Doug? Will the spices take their revenge?
FACTS & OPINION
I understand the film Mistress of Spices was adapted from the book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I haven't read the book myself so I can't comment on how true the story is to the book. The character of Tilo is played by the stunning Aishwariya Rai and Doug is played by Dylan McDermott with support from Nitin Ganatra, Ayesha Dharker, Shaheen Khan and Anupam Kher.
The idea of having a Mistress of Spices who has the magic touch and sight to be able to see what spices suit each individual she comes across and be able to see into their future seemed like a charming idea with lots of potential. The film opens with an abundance of glorious colour, I found the opening sequences charming and mesmerising with close-ups of various spices making me look forward to what was to come. Sadly the film itself didn't live up to the opening sequences. The story is told from the perspective of Tilo with a voiceover for most of the film which was acceptable enough at first but then very quickly started to get annoying. I felt that this constant voiceover by Aishwariya Rai's character was intrusive and fairly unnecessary- it's almost as if the writers were treating the audience as rather dumb - that we wouldn't be able to figure out what was going on just from watching. Sometimes less is more; less voiceover would have definitely been more appropriate in the case of this film.
Aishwariya is stunning in the role aesthetically but I don't feel she was the best actress for this particular role. She just didn't seem sincere enough for the character she was playing and there wasn't really much chemistry between her and Dylan McDermott who is also very good-looking. I felt more sincerity from him in the role but I didn't buy the attraction between them. Considering they were the leads in the film this was a shame. I found Aishwariya's one-sided conversations with her spices almost comical which I am fairly sure they weren't meant to be!
I was more interested in the side stories of the spice store customers, especially that of the character of Nitin Ganatra (he's been a regular in recent years in Eastenders, our British BBC1 soap which is no great accolade) but his performance in this film was fabulous. He comes to Tilo looking for luck when he gets his yellow cab and is a regular customer, he also needs emotional healing from a very sad childhood which Tilo is able to provide in the form of forgetting the bad things in the past (strange how we're supposed to believe how easy it is to wipe away bad memories). When he comes into the shop and sees the "chemistry" between Tilo and Doug he asks her in Hindi if Doug is bothering her and states that it's a brotherly protection he feels towards her - as a viewer one can see there's nothing sexual about it all and it is out of genuine concern for her safety. Anupham Kher plays a grandfather worried about his granddaughter becoming too American and dating a South American guy, which, to the viewer, comes across as being quite racist as he makes some negative stereo-typical comments about the guy.
Another few characters' lives are opened up to us and at least two of them were very predictable as to the outcome from very early on in the film. There's also a young Sikh boy who's being bullied at school and Tilo's spices to give him courage actually go wrong when he cuts his hair short and starts hanging out with thugs and carrying knives and a gun. I felt this bit of the story was a bit far-fetched in some respects as the boy initially is very polite to Tilo when he comes to her shop and later he's extremely rude to her which made no sense as she was no threat to him. In some ways, they tried to possibly fit in too many side stories into the main one which then made the main story less interesting and credible.
The cinematography was superb; the way the spices were filmed was really eye-catching and made me want to reach into the screen to touch them. Credit must be given to the cinematographer for making the film such a colourful and enchanting affair. The background music during the film was pleasant enough but I felt there was a bit much of it in places. Considering this is NOT a Bollywood film, maybe they should have left out the music in parts. Thankfully there were no song and dance routines.
For what started out as a good premise (I was quite enchanted at the start of the film) it soon was let down by trying to be too mystical. I was happy enough to watch to the end but it's not something I'll be watching again anytime soon. I'd give Mistress of Spices a decent enough 3.5 out of 5 and most of that is due to the cinematography. Don't watch this if you're looking for a dose of reality.
The DVD "Special Features" include: a 3.5 minute featurette; 6 interviews with cast and crew members (which I felt had quite a bit of film repeated from the featurette); an 18 minute b-roll which was not very interesting; the film's trailer which last just under 2 minutes which quotes "one woman has dedicated her life to an ancient tradition... and a powerful magic" and the Director's Commentary.
The Director's Commentary is by Director and screenplay writer Paul Mayeda Berges & co-writer Gurinder Chadda. Gurinder says earlier on in the commentary that a lot of people feel Aishwariya is the star of the film but she feels the star is the cinematographer and I have to agree with that. Berges mentions that all the scenes of Tilo's childhood flashbacks were set in Kerala and Gurinder mentions the reason they chose Kerala for the India scenes is because it's the home of many fantastic spices. As far as DVD extras go, the ones included with the film are decent enough but I wouldn't pay more than around £5 for it (easily available from Amazon or Play for that amount).
Release date: 2005
Run time: 90 minutes
Director: Paul Mayeda Berges
Screenplay by: Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chada
Producer: Deepak Nayar
Cinematography: Santosh Sivan
India is an ancient land famed for its myths, magic and tradition. But what happens to these when its people leave for new lands and find themselves in a different culture? The mistress of spices is the tale of Tilo, a lady with the gift of second sight and who has been trained to use spices to help customers who visit he store in San Francisco. As a child she was trained by first mother to understand the power of spices and use them to help others. In doing so she must dedicate her life to the spices, following 3 simple rules: never to leave the store she runs, touch the skin of another or use the spices for their own gain.
Tilo runs a store called the Spice Bazaar and has many regular customers who we learn a lot about through the course of the film. These include Haroun, an immigrant taxi driver who dreams of making it big in the US and is very protective of Tilo, a grandfather played by Anupan Kher, who is worried about how Americanised his grandaughter is becoming, Kwesi, an African American who is trying to impress his girlfriend and Jagjit, a young man who is being troubled at school. Tilo, with her gift of second sight, is able to gain insight into their problems and in some cases gets a premoniton of what's to come. Tilo uses the spices to treat her customers' problems - cinnamon to help make friends, saffron for lonely nights and black cumin to dispel the evil eye.
One day there is an accident outside the store where a young man, Doug, gets thrown off his motorbike and suffers. Cut and bruised he is brought into the store and Tilo full of concern treats his cuts with a mixture of spices. As soon as they set eyes on each other there is a spark, which Tilo initially tries to ignore. As time passes by Doug frequently visits the store and Tilo finds it increasingly difficult to ignore her feelings. On one occasion they touch, breaking one of the sacred rules. The spices become jealous of her relationship and start to turn away from her, refusing to guide her and things start to go wrong with her other customers. Tilo realises this is due to her breaking the rules but is torn between her love for the spices and her attraction to Doug. Will she choose forbidden love or remain true to her traditions?
The film is based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni which I read several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed, so I when I heard they were making a film out of the book I was really looking forward to seeing it. I was not overly disappointed! Tilos shop looked amazing, pretty much how I'd pictured it - a mystical, magical treasure trove of spices, pickles and all things indian. I was facinated by the mystical traditions of the spices and how this knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Aishwarya Rai did a very good job at playing Tilo as did Dylan McDermott as Doug. At times the chemistry between the two was electric and I found myself worrying about how the spices would react as Tilo struggled with her emotions. That's not to detract from the actors that played her customers who also were fantastic, particularly Haroun played by Nitin Ganatra (more known for playing Masood in Eastenders), who I felt instantly endeared to. The only downside for me was that it was a little slow at times and I would have liked to see more of the characters played by Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan, whose performances I have really enjoyed in previous films.
The film is from the creaters of Bride and Prejudice and Bend it Like Beckham. It is rated a 12, due to mild moderate violence and lasts for 91 minutes. The film is marketed as 'a magical romantic comedy' which I don't agree with entirely. Magical - yes, Romantic - yes, Comedy- no.
Released: 21st April, 2006
Aishwarya Rai as Tilo
Dylan McDermott as Doug
Nitin Ganatra as Haroun
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Kwesi
Caroline Chikezie as Myisha
Born with the ability to find things and to sometimes see into the future, the villagers often turned to Tilo (Aishwarya Rai) for help. But then one day evil men (pirates) sought her out, wanting Tilo to locate a lost treasure for them. These men broke into Tilo's home and murdered her family. Not having had the premonition that this would happen, Tilo goes into shock at the horror of what she has witnessed, and the realisation that everyone she loved has been killed. Tilo does manage to remain calm, and escapes her captors by jumping into the ocean, and eventually washes up on an island where an elderly mystical woman lives with a group of young girls. This small group of young girls have all been chosen because of their mystical abilities, and the elderly woman has been training them to understand the mystical value of spices, and to use these spices in order to help people. The belief is that every human has a spice that is proper to them, and that if they use 'their' spice it will benefit their lives in a positive manner. However, becoming a mistress of spices comes with strict rules that must never to be broken; they must never wander far from the spices - they must never touch the skin of another human - they must never use the spices for their own personal gain.
Having completed her training, Tilo is sent to America (San Francisco) where she opens a spice shop and helps those who have need of her. Able to see into the future, and to create potions with the use of the spices, Tilo's small spice shop becomes very popular with the people in the neighbourhood, and they flock to her not only for the purchase of spices, but for advice as well. Amongst these customers is an older gentleman who is distressed by his granddaughter's Western behaviour, and her integration into American culture that has led her to fall in love with an 'outsider', there is a teenager who is being bullied at school, there is the young man who has fallen in love and is trying to win the heart of his love interest, and last but not least, a cab driver whose future (Tilo has had visions of something horrible happening to him) is not certain.
Tilo's life is one of self-sacrifice. She cannot set foot outside her shop because she can never wander away from the spices inside, and although she is surrounded by people (her shop is very busy), she is alone. Unable to touch people or to be touched, there is no intimacy, no hope of ever discovering the joy of being in love, of being a wife or a mother. Tilo can only ever be a spectator to life, she can never truly live life as others do. She has managed, regardless that she is a virtual prisoner of her shop, to assimilate much of the Western culture. Many of her older customers were born in India, as she was, but have refused to embrace Western culture or to integrate themselves into society, and this, Tilo knows, is the root of their troubles.
One day, Tilo spies a man outside on the sidewalk, and is immediately drawn to him. When he is victim of an accident outside her shop, she takes him in and tends his wounds. Tilo's attraction to this man begins to grow, and soon turns into an obsession. As strong feelings develop between Tilo and Doug (Dylan McDermott), Tilo's mystical powers will abandon her, and the spices will turn against her. Her punishment for having broken the rules will affect all those around her, those she has been helping... and as bad things begin to happen to those around her, she will have to choose between her calling as the Mistress of Spices and the man she loves. She cannot have both.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The chemistry between Tilo (Aishwarya Rai) and Doug (Dylan McDermott) is incredible, and although they come from very different racial and religious backgrounds, they share a strong spiritual bond. As the story progresses, these racial and religious differences begin to fade, and what is left are the fundamental basics we all share as human beings upon this earth... we are either male or female... and that is who Tilo and Doug are, they are simply a man and a woman who share a strong spiritual bond.
Those who have criticised this movie have obviously not noticed that there is more to the Mistress of Spices than just romance and mysticism. There is a message, a lesson to be learned. As human beings, we are all born without prejudices... these prejudices are taught to us by our parents and society in general, and each prejudice or difference that sets us apart is labelled and attached to us. Taking myself for instance, I am a 'female'... attached to me is a label stating that I am 'white', beside this is a label stating that I am 'Christian', beside this is a label telling everyone that I am 'Canadian', and beside this 'Canadian' label is one that says I am 'French', and then there is the label that tells everyone my ancestors came from 'France'. There are way more labels attached to me, one being 'married', the other stating I am a 'mother', and dozens more that serve no obvious purpose (age, physical and mental health, hobbies, schooling, work, etc...) other than to fit me into a category somewhere.
There isn't a single human on this earth who hasn't, at one time or another, filled in a form that requested information on the labels they wear. The government, schools and employers want to know what colour your skin is and where you were born, they want to know if you're male or female, they want to know your age and what your religious label says, they want to know what your labels are so that they can make certain they stick you in the same category that you have been forced into since birth. Employers want to know what labels you wear so they can pick the best ones for the job... this appears somewhat incredible when you think about it, and you wonder what label you need to possess in order to clean toilets, wash windows, answer phones, or deliver newspapers! What a burden all these labels are... they imprison us within our own categories, and there's no freeing ourselves from their restraints. Are there certain labels that make us a better person? Don't know, but quite a few people our there seem to think that their labels make them superior. What do all these labels mean? Do they actually represent who a person truly is? No, they don't. The true purpose of these labels is to catalogue us and fit us into different categories. These labels, as we grow up, become more of a burden than a revelation into our ancestral background. These labels become targets, and before we know it, someone is flinging insults at us because one of our labels is different from theirs. The real question we should, as human beings, be asking ourselves, is WHY do we allow labels to be attached to us? These labels are not who we are deep inside; they are not a reflection of our souls. Personally, whenever I am forced to fill in a form, I rage at having to respond to such idiotic questions such as colour, racial background and religion... what good can it possibly serve to help others in their categorizing of me! I don't want to be categorized, yet I can't stop anyone from attaching labels to me. The truth is, if these labels were visible (like post-it notes), we would all look incredibly ridiculous! Actually, a thought comes to me... if we were all walking around with post-it notes attached to us from head to foot, wouldn't this all make us identical? Food for thought...
The bottom line is; no one can fit perfectly into any given category. We are all unique, and although most of us accept and appreciate our own differences, we do not respect or appreciate the differences in others. This movie is about cultural differences, and how difficult it is for immigrants to assimilate themselves into different societies.
As for the actors in the Mistress of Spices, I thought them all incredibly talented and convincing in the roles they played. The characters are extremely well-developed and possess a profound depth to them, and viewed as a whole, they are all necessary to the storyline. The chemistry between the different actors is amazing in that you feel that they genuinely like each other, therefore there is a sense of camaraderie between the individual characters they are portraying. You get a sense that the actors must have enjoyed making this movie together... now whether that is true or not I don't actually know.
This movie has been, in my opinion, unjustly criticised. Viewers tend to have a problem accepting the mystical side of the spices which appear to call out to Tilo and to guide her. There are also those who have criticized Aishwarya Rai's (Tilo) acting. Bah... I say hush people! The Mistress of Spices was never intended to be a ground-breaking movie, and the message within was not meant to be crammed down your throats! The Mistress of Spices was meant to be entertaining, magical and unpretentious... and that is exactly what Aishwarya Rai (Tilo) gives the viewer in her performance. Dylan McDermott (Doug), gives us a more down-to-earth performance, a bigger-than-life-I'm-all-American-apple-pie-type performance than Aishwarya, but that is in keeping with his character... however, as his attraction to Tilo turns into love, he displays a more tender side, one that most men might consider weak. But hey, that's what a true romance is all about! We women love to see you men squirm... oops... now you've glimpsed my 'evil' label!
This said, the Mistress of Spices is not for everyone. If all you want is a nice soppy romance, then I would suggest you pass this one by. If you want romance and are open-minded and willing to delve into the minds of characters that Western society has labelled 'minority', then there is a lot to be learned here, and you will be rewarded for your time.