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In India, Tilo has the ability of foreseeing the future. When their parents are killed by bandits, she is kidnapped but escapes and is raised by the First Mother in a sort of traditional cult of spices. She becomes the Mistress of Spices and is sent to the Spice Bazaar in San Francisco, with the mission of following three basic rules: help her clients to accomplish their desires with the spices, but never hers; never leave the store; and never be touched in the skin. When she meets the handsome American architect Doug, she feels a great attraction and desire for him, breaking the first rule and being punished by the spices. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.
Mistress of Spices is based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and is the directorial debut for Paul Mayeda Berges. Berges has worked previously with his wife, Gurinder Chadha, on a number of films including Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. Chadha co-wrote the screenplay here with her husband.
The movie follows Tilo, played by Aishwarya Rai, who is a member of an old, mystical cult that worships spice in all its forms. She is sent to Oakland to open a shop and help people using the mysterious powers of the spices. Tilo, who also has the power to see visions of the future, soon ends up helping a whole coterie of characters: a man (Anupam Kher) who is distressed over his granddaughter (Padma Lakshmi), a woman who has grown up in America and adopted western ways, much to his dismay; Jagjit (Sonny Gill Dulay), a teenager who is having trouble with the kids at school; Haroun (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), a cab driver that has a cloudy future; Kwesi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man trying to win the heart of a woman.
But to be successful, Tilo must follow three rules: one, she must never leave the store; two, she must never touch the skin of another person; three, she can never use the spices for her own gain. One day a man (Dylan McDermott) falls off his motorcycle outside her store and they are both instantly drawn to one another, challenging Tilo's devotion to her cause and threatening her control over the spices.
This is a nice, light film, reminiscent in many ways of Chocolat, with Aishwarya Rai in the Juliette Binoche role. Rai is luminous on screen, and the chemistry between her and Dylan McDermott is good. I didn't think the voice-over narration of Rai's character's inner thoughts was entirely successful, although I can't see how else you could really do it; funny enough, the voice-overs reminded me of another spice-related movie, David Lynch's Dune. The movie explores a bit of the mixing between east and west and the conflict between old and new, but not quite as successfully as some of Berges' and Chadha's other films, but that is probably due more to the limitations of creating an adaptation.
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