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When Mississippi Masala opened it was a B movie or was treated as such.
Denzil Washington was riding high with his Malcolm X role in the news. I
wondered what made him decide on such a low key movie. I got hold of the
cassette and saw it. Then I knew why. The plot is excellent and this must
have been the reason why other notable actors (Charles Dutton comes to mind;
and the actors who played Meena's Father (Rohan Seth, I think, who came in
Gandhi), and the actor who played Denzil's father. The other actors were
magnificent and were perfect for their parts. I particular enjoyed Sunil
and friends and Denzil's brother.
What was most admirable in this movie is the writer/director's ability to merge three cultures (Uganda, India, & Southern USA) into an enchanting love story. Mira Nir has made her mark with this movie. Not surprising the critics loved it.
I New York the movie opened quietly then quickly became popular by word-of-mouth. Many women went to see Denzil but came away enjoying a unique and interesting love story with racism from another angle as it's strong undertone. Go see it if you haven't already.
I love this movie. I first saw it as a preteen and did not understand the concept. I have recently got the DVD as a gift and watch it over and over again and learn something else from it each time. Sarita Choudhury is one of the best actresses of our time and I respect her decision to not want to go "Hollywood". She has appeared in movies with substance and a message unlike the movies that are coming out in mainstream Hollywood. Denzel Washington is a great actor in this movie as well. Playing Demitrius, you really see his versatility as an actor. Mississippi Masala touches a new kind of racism not shown in movies before. Dark skin vs. light skin seems to go across every ethnicity in the world and I respect Mira Nair for making this film. Although the movie or its actors didn't receive the attention or awards (i.e. an Oscar) for their extraordinary performance, this is a must see movie and it will change your mind about the caliber of movies you choose to see from now on.
The theme of interracial romance is the setting for this fine drama and focus on the divisions between black Americans and South Asian communities. Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury are appealing as the central figures from different backgrounds and struggle to stay together amid the controversy that swirls around them. Washington and Choudhury have a nice chemistry that works very well in this picture and makes their romance even more believable. They have their share of ups and downs and face challenges to their relationship like any normal couple. The movie touches on the origins of the immigrant status of the South Asians which began when they were expelled from Uganda many years earlier. The resentment towards blacks is a recurring theme in the movie as they settle into their new communities in the deep south. The film has a bouncy music score that adds flavor to the story and a nice cast weaves everything together in fine style.
In the early 20th century, the English government moved several people
from India to Uganda to build the railroad. Some of the Indians stayed
and became lawyers, physicians, etc. When Idi Amin came to power in the
early 1970s, he expelled all non-black Africans. Some of the Indians
moved to Mississippi and began running motels.
"Mississippi Masala" focuses on this. Mina (Sarita Choudhury) is the daughter of an Indian family who fled Uganda for Mississippi. She develops a relationship with Demetrius (Denzel Washington), a local man. Her family does not approve of her dating a black man, and Demetrius' friends don't like him dating an Indian woman.
The movie shows many things, in particular how both the blacks and the Indians were displaced from their ancestral lands. Also, it shows how the blacks are racist towards the Indians and vice versa. As Demetrius reminds Mina's father: "Your skin is just a couple of shades from mine." Regardless of whether or not these sorts of things happen a lot, the movie does a very good job with it all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Mississippi Masala" stars Denzel Washington, before he became known with
such films as "Malcolm X". But this is not about blacks in Mississippi. It
is about Indians ("no, not that kind of Indian") being expelled from their
East African homeland, and taking 15+ years to make peace with it. Along the
way the father had become estranged from his best friend from childhood, a
very black African, and found when he finally returned to Uganda that his
friend had died.
When the family was forced to leave Uganda in the mid-70s, they went to England then ended up in Miss., living in and running a motel. Pretty typical. The daughter, Mina, was 24 and still treated like she was 16. In a small traffic accident, she met Demetrius (Denzel) who had a business cleaning carpets. They clicked, began to go places together, fell for each other, the spit hit the fan in Biloxi when they were in a motel room together. When mom and dad went back to Uganda, Mina stayed in Miss., with Demetrius.
The whole point of the film was how the Indians built up this hatred for people "of color" because of what had happened to them, and their healing was complete only after they returned to their homeland. Pretty good film, develops slowly, but interesting all the way.
Some may think that all it is about is the race relations between Asian Indians and Blacks in Southern USA. I saw it as collection of stories, each running along its own thread while impacting others at the same time. There is a love story between a Black guy and an Asian Indian (by way of Africa) girl, there is a man trying to regain his lost homeland (which some may consider artificial), there are others who are trying to fit into the new-new-South, a younger brother who is a bother and a motel owner who doesn't understand the people around him. All in all, a well knit story.
This movie showed one thing that is totally true about many Indians in
America (I don't know about England). Many Indians who immigrate to
this country start acting and behaving like they are white. Sometimes
they forget that they are not even white (I am guilty of that sometimes
too, probably even more because I grew up here). Denzel Washington
points that out to Roshan Seth very well in this movie. "You are no
more than a few shades from my complexion." And then Jammu point out to
Anil how he has started to act American (probably means white
American), and Anil says, "So what? I'm living in America! You don't
like it? Go back to India!"
Overall, it's a really good movie. I like it even more than "Monsoon Wedding," and I feel this movie was very underrated. My seventh grade teacher recommended this movie a long time ago (actually a few mos. after I saw it myself.) I myself have been recommending it to some of my non-Indian college friends who have seen Monsoon Wedding.
In a very dignified and low-key kind of way, this movie speaks to the issues
of racism and clashing cultures far better than any of the Spike Lee movies
I have seen does. I think it's because it looks at racism not from the
traditional perspective of white/black, but a slightly different perspective
of colored/black. Also, what makes this movie really fly is that you really
like the lead characters... you care about them and want them to be happy in
the end. I haven't had that reaction to any Spike Lee movie characters yet.
In short, this movie doesn't come at you as "I'm a preachy race relations movie" but rather as a sweet love story that gets waylaid by issues of race and color in a believable way.
I saw this movie for the first time when it came out in 1991, and thought it was good. I saw it again last night (1998) and like a fine wine or cheese it's getting even better with age.
If only Spike Lee would watch this and try to learn something from it... this movie has a lot to say and says it well.
that explores, opens up, reveals the unconscious, socially conditioned
ways we limit ourselves. Because the film deals primarily with the
Black and African-Indian communities, I found myself wishing that I
could have seen it in a Black/Indian audience to see what the film
This is a good film for those of you who like explosions, cool mafia hit men, and high tech because it is about real human difficulty and real courage -- not the Die Hard and Terminator fantasy versions of those virtues.
It also happens to be a very sweet, often tellingly funny love story about two believable people you will end up really liking.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an intimate look at Indians from Africa in America that are just
trying to do the best they can and still maintain their values and it was
made into a film when the director discovered that many of the motels in the
south are owned by Indians. Story is about an Indian family that was ousted
from Uganda in the early 70's when Idi Amin started to kick out all Asians.
Jay (Roshan Seth) was a lawyer in Africa but had to take his wife Kinnu
(Sharmila Tagore) and his young daughter Mina out of the country and would
end up in Greenwood, Mississippi. Years later Mina (Sarita Choudhury) who is
24 still lives with her parents who run a motel and they expect her to marry
an Indian gentleman. One day Mina is involved in a traffic accident and
meets a young black man named Demetrius (Denzel Washington) and after
exchanging address's he asks her out on a date. They start to date but keep
it secret from her parents until they are caught by fellow
Demetrius owns a carpet cleaning business and many of his clients are the Indian motel owners and when word spreads of their relationship his business starts to go downhill which puts him in trouble with the bank. Mina loves Demetrius but he is seriously hurt by the reaction of not only the Indians in the community but of her parents.
This film was directed by Mira Nair who has added so much to films with her poignant views of Indian culture trying to survive in America and she had made a big impact with her first feature "Salaam Bombay!" and would later make the splendid "Monsoon Wedding". One of the interesting things about this story is that we get to see why this family had to come to America instead of just having the film start with them already in Mississippi. While this is an interesting and provocative script what lies at the core of this film is a simple love story that is relevant to this day. Washington was just emerging as an important actor and he's solid as usual but the film's star is really by newcomer Choudhury. This was her first role and even though at times she appears nervous she turns in a very good performance. It cannot be easy to be in your first film and have nude scenes but she evidently came through alright and shows enough freshness and charm to practically steal the film. Film goes on a tad long and the last 20 minutes seem obvious but this is an intriguing story and Nair is an important director who has again shown her observances of transplanted Indians in America.
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