“ Actors: Om Puri, James Fox, Aasif Mandvi, Ayesha Dharker, Jimi Mistry / Directors: Ismail Merchant / Writers: Caryl Phillips, V.S. Naipaul / Producers: Anthony Maharaj, George Darley-Doran, Lawrence Duprey, Nayeem Hafizka, Paul Bradley / Format: PAL / Language: English / Number of discs: 1 / Studio: Fox Pathe / DVD Release Date: 30 Jun 2003 / Run Time: 117 minutes „
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The Mystic Masseur is a 2001 released film produced and directed by Ismail Merchant with English dialogue.
Ganesh is a frustrated writer in the mid 1900s living in Trinidad. He leaves his teaching career to focus on writing full time choosing to move to the "countryside" shortly after his father's death. His father's neighbour, Ramlogan is keen to foist his daughter Leela onto Ganesh and this works as Ganesh soon marries her. Leela encourages him to work as a masseur like his father did (he apparently had mystic healing powers) to earn money to live whilst writing his book but Ganesh wants to focus on writing his book. How does Ganesh go from being a small time writer to a major politician?
With the opening credits we are told how Indians were shipped to Trinidad in the mid 19th century to work as labourers and over the years they became a wealthy community.
At the start of film we see Jimi Mistry as Pratap Cooper meeting Ganesh Ramseyor at Paddington station where they go on to Oxford University where Pratap has been studying and he admits his surprise when he meets Ganesh off the train as Ganesh had rid him of his demons as a child and he is eternally grateful to him for that. The film then goes back to more than a decade earlier to tell the story of Ganesh leaving teaching in a major city in Trinidad to live in a village/rural area.
The Mystic Masseur is certified as a PG film which is fine as there was no bad language at all and no scenes of sex or nudity, although I can't imagine any child sitting through this film and finding it remotely enjoyable. I tried to take the film as a farce as I imagine it was supposed to be taken but even so, I found myself struggling to stay tuned till the end. And the end was a long way away. Despite having a decent cast who played their parts well, I found myself wondering why what should have been a decent film was so disappointing. I usually enjoy Merchant Ivory productions.
Aasif Mandvi plays the so called intellectual whose passion to write a book distracts him from everything else in life. I don't recall seeing Mandvi in other roles but I understand he is British born and moved to the US in his teens and studied theatre. I found his acting to be nothing special and maybe that's what prevented me from buying into this, the main character of the film. As Ganesh, unable to have children, he tells his wife that his books will be his children but his attempt to write his first book seems to take an eternity and what he does eventually write and take to the local printing press for publishing is the length of a booklet and the tells the sarcastic printer to print it in 8 point Times Roman (surely he'd check what that means) and then complains that the font is too small. The "book" itself is pretty much a question and answer pamphlet type short book which obviously doesn't sell well initially but when he starts up his masseur business and word spreads, suddenly his books start selling like hot cakes. Highly unlikely! His mystic masseur skills are a joke (presumably meant to be) and it shows how gullible people are and I was astounded in one scene where he helps a champion cyclist who's addicted to masturbating with his bicycle to meet a woman!
Ayesha Dharker plays the long suffering wife Leela who has to put up with her husband's idiosyncrasies. Dharker is decent enough in her role and is portrayed as a strong independent woman who stands up to both her husband and father when they try to get their own way. She was actually the most entertaining character in the film for me.
Om Puri plays the role of Ramlogan, Leela's father and Ganesh's father-in-law. His performance is not as notable as in other films (he's very famous in Bollywood and starred in East is East and West is West) and even though he is the first name billed in the credits, he doesn't have the main part.
Sanjeev Bhasker as Behari, a neighbour and sort of disciple of Ganesh is amusing to watch as always; although I was unsure as to why his character idolises Ganesh all through the film aside from the fact that Ganesh is supposedly an intellectual.
I think the film was poking fun at uneducated people who assume educated people are the be all and end all of everything. Ramlogan is constantly telling his son-in-law how clever he is and asks him to share his knowledge and asks him to read aloud to him. In one scene when Ganesh goes off to meet Behari, Leela shouts after him not to let Behari "steal" all his knowledge.
Throw in some other random characters such as James Fox as a Brit from Chichester who's converted to Hinduism and is a spiritual man (who's never been to India) and Zohra Seghal as Ganesh's lovely Aunty, it's a shame such a cast couldn't have made the film more watchable. I found the fake Trinidadian accents rather odd too but kudos to the Indian actors trying to speak English with that accent. The cast calling each other "man" was amusing and more so when Leela called her husband "man"!
In an early scene in the film when Ganesh is working as a teacher, his headmaster insults him and tells him he should go and become a "coolie". Coolie is somewhat of a racist slur in African regions implying someone of Asian descent is uneducated and only worthy of being a slave or unskilled manual labourer.
Overall I found it a real struggle to stay tuned to the end of the film which was just under 2 hours. I haven't read the book of the same name by V S Naipaul on which the film is based but from my research I understand the film is pretty similar to the original story.
I could go on and talk about the locales used in the film but aside from enjoying seeing 1950s Paddington station at the start of the film and some decent scenes inside Oxford University, I didn't find the Trinidad locations very noteworthy.
The Mystic Masseur gets a weak 2 out of 5 stars from me.
Cast: Aasif Mandvi, Ayesha Dharker, Sanjeev Bhasker, Om Puri, Jimi Mistry, Zohra Seghal, James Fox
Producer/director: Ismail Merchant
Writer: Caryl Phillips (based on the novel by V. S. Naipaul)
Release date: 2001
Duration: 116 minutes
DVD extras: none, scene selection and movie only, no subtitles