Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Mistress of Spices (2005)

India is a land of myths, magic and tradition. When immigrants from India come to the West they often lose these traditions. This is a story about what happens when such traditions are lost.”

So states Paul Mayeda Berges,Gurinder Chada (Of "Bend it Like Bekham" fame) and Deepak Nayar's film, "Mistress of Spices" staring Aiswarya Rai, Dylan Mcdermott and Anupam Kher.

(Watch the trailer here)

The story in a nutshell:

(Aiswarya Rai) has the gift of clairvoyance and has had it from childhood. Due to a strange twist in fate she ends up with a mystical cult for girls only where she is taught that spices contain magic and can be used to heal people physically and emotionally. As a young woman, she is sent to Oakland, California to open a spice shop but is gravely instructed that the spices will work their magic on her patients only as long as Tilo follows three rules:

She has to respect and listen to the spices, never leaving them alone for a single moment (in other words, she is bound to her spice shop)

She must never touch anyone or allow them to touch her.

And finally, she must NEVER use any of the spice magic to fuel her own desires.

(The spice shop with its spices. The spices were perhaps the only characters in the movie worth raving about!)

Flouting one or all of these rules would diminish her healing power with the spices. As a result of all these conditions, Tilo is a sad recluse, letting love and life go by her until one day she falls in love with an American customer (Dylan McDermott) and the spices go completely ballistic on her. ( Just for that I think the book/movie should have been renamed "The Slave of Spices" or "The Spice Who Loved Me" with apologies to Trupti ofcourse!).

Anyhow, Tilo knows that the spices will never let her know any happiness with "The American", but she is so tired of being lonely and unloved that she decides she will allow herself just one night with this man and then return to the spices forever -(whoa, that poor guy is being used and he doesn't even realise it!). Guess Tilo subscribed to the philosophy that it is better to love (read make love) and lose than to not have loved at all.

(no chemistry whatsoever)

The movie is based on Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's book of the same name which I remember reading 10 years ago. I really can't comment on the book because the only part that stayed with me was some of the descriptions of the spices which she wrote in that magical realism style that I enjoyed so much.

I thought the movie, while very average in the acting and script departments, did have some nice cinematography (the cinematographer is Santosh Sivan of "Dil Se" fame). The spice shop with its beautiful, exotic spices and colours engages the senses and Aiswarya Rai is as beautiful as ever, a little boring maybe, but beautiful nonetheless, however, despite the "Spice" in the title, please don't expect any...this movie is as bland as milk. Aiswarya and McDermott have absolutely no chemistry between them. I was expecting so much more from this cross cultural romance!

(Tilo readying herself for her one night of passion)

The movie helped renew my interest in our Indian home remedies, but I will tell you it made me view my spice cabinet with great trepidition - everytime I open it now, I half expect the fenugreek to burst into song "I, fenugreek who renders the body sweet again, ready for loving", or for the red chillies (considered in the spice world to warn of danger) to throw me some dire warning circling above my head like a hawk croaking "I, Chilli, was born of agni, god of fire. I dripped from his fingertips to bring taste to this bland earth"
(all pictures courtesy Hindustan Times)

Would I recommend the movie? Nah, don't waste your time. This year will probably have me watching more cinema than reading books, so why don't you nominate a movie that in your opinion should win the "waste of time" award, it will help me get to the good movies faster! :)

Quick Update: For those of us that love movies having to do with food/cooking/foreign cuisine etc., Wu Wei has a nice recommendation. It's a Greek movie titled "Politiki Kouzina" or "A Touch of Spice" in English. I plan on renting the DVD if Blockbusters has it.


CG said...

Unfortunately I haven't seen a single film this year so I can't tell which one not to watch, but I will follow your blog closely to find out which ones are worthy watching! Lovely post as always!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Carra!

I know what you mean! In the past,I,too, have gone for months without watching a movie! This year, I am making a conscious effort to change that a little...there is so much good cinema out there, I want to be able to benefit from it.

Asha said...

Well..I will wait for the DVD to watch that then!:))
But it's little odd to think of a Indian girl opting for one night stand or making love with a guy without commitment.
Hey,I am still old fashioned,go ahead and call me a prude!;D
I might buy this book though for Tilo,not for Ash!!HeHe!

RamaDrama said...

Over the years i have seen some of the worst movies..ever made...if you wanna take revenge on someone u hate..then..u can have this list to use on them...

1)Battlefield Earth: A Saga of year 3000 (No.1 in all-time sucky movies)

2)Wicker Man (Nicolas Cage sometimes is so high..i doubt he reads the scripts)

3)Any movie by Nora Ephron- Watch the trailers ..that is the best part..and yes..Sleepless in Seattle has one good scene...

4)Bulletproof monk - less said the better

5)Mullholand Drive

I am sure there are lots more..but this should help ward off boring elements for good.


Anonymous said...

Hi Anjali:
Great review, as always. I was so waiting for this movie, I adore Ash, and loved the book. Perhaps I too will wait for the DVD. I can't really recommend movies not to watch, as I really only watch Hindi movies, and I have to say, modern or old, I love them all. I just cannot be bothered with the American movies, sex and violence, talentless and overpaid actors/actresses are not for me.Give me the Hindi song and dance any day of the week.I always feel so good after spending time with my favorite Hindi stars going from India to Switzerland to New Zealand and back again to India, and that in just on song/dance routine...beautiful......

darkorpheus said...

I had intended to watch "Mistress of Spices" initially - but life distracted me. Thank goodness.

But I agree with HollyDolly, the Hindi movies with the song and dance are a lot more fun. Used to watch them frequently on TV when I wasw younger. It's fascinating how one can enjoy Hindi movies without understanding the language.

And Mistress of Spices is yet another Hollywood film that wastes a beautiful actress.

gautami tripathy said...

I will not go watch it for the simple reason, I can't stand Ms Rai!

You review well.

karmic said...

I loved your review. You should do more movie reviews, loved the way you wrote this one.
I am tempted to watch the movie purely for the spice shop and the scenes you mention, I guess I can laugh about the rest.
Did Aishwarya and Dylan kiss on screen? I know she came across as someone who had issues with some of this stuff in her CBS interview a while back.

Just for that I think the book/movie should have been renamed "The Slave of Spices"

so why don't you nominate a movie that in your opinion should win the "waste of time" award, it will help me get to the good movies faster!
A movie? There are a lot of bad ones. Usually you can go with top movie lists, but two sites I like are rottentomatoes
and Ebert and Roeper. They have a weekly show on TV and they do movie reviews and DVD reviews as well. They are pretty good. Their web site also has a lot of good stuff that you can use as a guide.
Hope this helps, sorry about the long comment.

Sai said...

I had heard abt how boring this movie is! Sorry you had to go through the agony :(

BTW I am so sick and tired of the exotica and mysticism associated with India and bland movies about that. Perhaps Paul Berges needed some garam masala in the movie ;)

Lisa Johnson said...

Great review! I love food movies, so it's a shame that this one wasn't done well. I'll heed your advice and forego this one.

I think you might have already read my post where I said not to waste your time on "Children of Men." I still stand by the recommendation, or lack thereof! : )

Booklogged said...

The title sounded good, too bad that's all. I agree with Motorama about Wicker Man. It was horrible.

karmic said...

Oh and talking about bad movies, they give out razzies for them. Here is a link , it will tell you some movies to avoid too. :)

Happy Reader said...

Lovely post Lotus! The picture of the spice shop looks very enticing!I remember reading this book a while ago, but never quite liked it. I am not surprised the movie turned out to be crappy too. I don't watch a lot of bollywood masala movies, just because I find them boring and they lull me into sleep within the first half hour :) I heard some good reviews about "Ekalavya", but I can't vouch for it! Like Sanjay, I too think you should do more movie reviews..I enjoyed reading the review and the beautiful pictures.

Beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus! HAHA! I hope your fenugreek doesn't start singing. :) I was curious about seeing thing movie, but watching any movie with Ashwariya Rai makes me break out in hives. I'm not a fan of hers to say the least........AND it's not because she's pretty. She has very yucky body language. Anyway, I am interested in Indian spice remedy though. That sounds so intriguing!!!!

Susan in Italy said...

So far this year I've seen only 1 movie theater movie (don't know the name in English) by Aki Kaurismaki. It was excellently depressing. Sorry, no duds yet. Your talking fenugreek & chili are hilarious, Lotus!

Lotus Reads said...

@Asha - I'm sure Tilo loved "The American" but sadly she was bound by the spices. However, she didn't want to lose her last chance at some happiness (even though she knew it was going to be fleeting), so I guess she did what most of us would do - grabbed it with both hands. There is a nice surprise at the end of the movie, which obviously I cannot reveal here! :) I thought so much of you as I saw the movie...I think you will love the spice references! :)

@Motorama - lol, thanks very much for your list. I think I know just the people to send it to! ;) You don't like Nora Ephron???!!!

@Sylvia - you're my kind of girl! :) I love Bollywood too! Over the years Bollywood has undergone quite a transformation..the storyline might have stayed the same to some extent, but the cinematography is truly world class. I love most of the music too! What about Tamil cinema, ever seen a Tamil movie? Some of them are just brilliant!

@Dark Orpheus - great to see another Bollywood fan! :) I am glad I saw "Guru" (another Aiswarya Rai starrer) before I saw "Mistress of Spices", had it been the other way around I would have been totally convinced that the lady couldn't act. "Guru" saved her career (I think!)

@Gautami - thank you and please know you are not alone in disliking Aiswarya Rai! ;)

Sugarlips said...

Lotus I love your reviews...You did a fabulous job :) Hugs !!

Mistress of spices didn't impress me at all and I happened to waste my time reading this book long back and I have no idea why I never enjoyed reading Chitra Banergee EVER :(

Ash looked pretty in this movie but I like Dylan McDermott :D ALOT!
I'm waiting for "The Namesake" fingers crossed :)

Stay Beautiful...!!

darkorpheus said...

Ah! Superlips just reminds me I have to get around to reading "Namesake" before the movie opens. Argh!

TNL said...

I haven't seen this movie...and honestly, I don't want to...especially after reading your review..Would love to get mt hands on that book though!

I did watch "Chokher Bali" for the 2nd time last weekend...have you seen that one?


Radha said...

Hi Lotus,

I missed this movie when it was playing in the movie halls, but now I dont regret it :)

One good cross-over film I saw this yr is 'The Namesake'. Tabu is absolutely brilliant in the movie and makes it worthwhile. I watched it in the 2006 film fest in Dubai, but I believe its opening to commercial audience this yr.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay - Thanks! Guess I should make time to watch more movies, huh? :) The cinematography is good, but since a huge chunk of the movie is shot inside the spice shop, it does get just a tad monotonous after a while.

And no, apparently Aish. has a no-kissing policy (atleast she did then, she seems to have bent the rules for "Dhoom 2"). Tough for a director to create a convincing love scene with no kissing, but I thought Paul Berges did an OK job with the little he had to work with.

Thank you for the links and the ones with the razzies as well - I'll make sure I stay away from those movies!

@Sai - I couldn't agree with you more. Enough with the exoticism, bring on the real stuff. I honestly don't know whose idea it was to adapt this book to film...there just isn't enough substance in it to do so. Did you see "Bride and Prejudice" by some chance? I was putting it off, but when I found that all my neighbors and the moms at school had seen it and wanted to discuss it with me, I found I had no choice.

@Anali- I love food movies and books, too! I'll bet "Like Water for Chocolate" was a good movie! Yes, I heeded your advice about "Children of Men", thanks! :)

@booklogged - thank you! With both you and Motorama warning me about "Wickerman", I'll make sure I don't touch it, not even with a disinfected bargepole! :)

ML said...

Thanks for the review, Lotus. And thanks for the recommendation of not bothering :)

Cassiopeia Rises said...

Lotus my dear, thank goodness you warned us in I have the book but have not read it yet. Have you read it and did you like it?
It was a good review anyway.:-)
BTW, Ron (The Rat Squeks) helped me get rid of all the brakes but I still cant get the picture to come first followed by the poem.
I'll have to go back to blogger help. I am glad you liked my poem. It was my first try at Prose.


Anonymous said...

Lotus, this was a book that I didn't read until just last year. Liked it a lot and found a couple of Divakaruni's others, stil TBR.

It's hard to imagine the film, since in the book we see much of the magical realism through an interior view of the protagonist's experience. How could that interiority transfer to film? Not very well apparently. We've had mixed results trying to find Bollywood films appropriate for family viewing (adults/teen), and this is one I think we'll skip based on your review.

Unknown said...

OH, but the colors look so pretty! I want to watch the movie for the visual stimulation.

Lotus Reads said...

@Chitts - Thank you for the nice words. The pictures were all courtesy Hindustan Times. I was so looking forward to "Eklayva" but then I read two reviews that made me change my mind - one was Siddharth at "The Buddha Smiled" - great blog, you must check it out when you can and the other was Deepika Shetty "Read @Peace", also a great blog, but you're right, there have also been reviewers that have enjoyed the movie, so I'm in a qunadry - do we go see it or not? :) I am looking forward to seeing "Amu" however, I love that Konkana Sen!

@beenzzz- I do agree, Aiswarya has this habit of looking quite blank or expressionless a lot of the time. I hate that horrible vacant look.

@Susan - I swear, after watching the movie I really do believe my spices can talk! ;)

@Sugarlips - awww, thank you! Ahhh, so you're a Dylan McDermott fan, huh? What other movies of his would you recommend? I wouldn't mind watching him in something else.

@Dark Orpheus - Yes, isn't the release date Mar 22nd or thereabouts? I am planning on seeing it again (saw it the first time at the Toronto International Film Festival)

Lotus Reads said...

@Trupti - Yes! I have watched "Chokher Bali", I really liked the movie with its beautiful social messages, but again, I would have much preferred to have had someone else plau Binodini! Let me know if you have any other Hindi movie recommendations - I am really trying to watch more cinema this year.

@Radha - I LOVED 'The Namesake' and like you, I thought Tabu was just marvellous! I will be going to see it again for sure!

@ml - You're quite welcome! :)

@Beloved - I liked the book because when I read it all those years ago I was really into the magic realism genre. I was also reading a lot of Isabel Allende and so on. However, I am not so sure the book would have the same appeal to me now. Read it and let me know what you think! Glad your blogger problems are over, yeay!

Parth said...

I agree with your assessment. Besides the cinematography by Santosh Sivan, there wasn't much to write home about. I have been told the novel itself is much better.

Les said...

Great post, Lotus. Those two do look like they have some chemistry going, though!

I'd never heard of fenugreek until my sister-in-law started taking it to help with her milk supply when she was nursing her babies.

My favorite food/cooking/foreign cuisine film is Tortilla Soup. Ah, to cook like that every day for my family. Wow.

Do not, however, waste your time on Cache. As much as I like Juilette Binoche, this movie was not a winner, imho! I'm suprised my husband sat through the entire film (we rent all our movies from Netflix). Ugh.

hellomelissa said...

t says "smokin' aces is a waste of time, but i simply cannot see you choosing it at blockbuster anyway.

starry said...

Thanks for the review Lotus.I had heard of the book but have never read it.Now I just watch a lot of old movie classics on the turner movie channel, all of them have been really good.have not come across a bad one yet.will let you know.

Yianna said...

Hey Lotus -

Wonderful post. I do love the way you see things - honestly but still with tenderness and wonder.
I'm interested to read this book if not see the movie. It sounds like an interesting story
Meanwhile, I highly recommend "Politiki Kouzina." I saw it the first year I was here and I still remember scenes from it very starkly (a sign of a good film for me.) The acting is a little wooden at times but it's the food that really stars and it has a Theo Angelopoulos quality about it.
Speaking of Mr. Angelopoulos, I've got to see more of his films...

jacob said...

bang on. the movie's a disaster. and i've never seen a spice shop that well-ordered either. but maybe there's an idea there. i loved your 'talking spices'.

Anonymous said...

I was in the video store this past weekend to rent a couple of movies to watch with my parents and 'Mistress of Spices' caught my eye. But I remembered it was a bad movie from the reviews, but I was so tempted to get it. :) Now I'm so glad I didn't!!

We ended up getting 'United 93' and the documentary 'March of the Penguins'. If you haven't seen either, they're both pretty good!

A great Indian movies review website that I always go to is:

Lotus Reads said...

@Fay - yes, I agree this was a rather difficult film to adapt for the big screen. Apart from the visual effects there is really nothing to recommend it. I will try to come up with some viewing recommendations for your family...funnily enough my teenager actually enjoyed "Mistress of Spices", so yours might too! :) Have you seen "Laage Raho MunnaBhai"? Our family enjoyed that one!

@Angela -'ll enjoy the first 45 mins or so, and then it's just more of the same.

@Parth - I read the novel a long time ago and remember liking it. I don't remember specifics though.

@Les - YES! Fenugreek is used to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding moms, I think it's also used to increase one's breast size! lol

Oooooooh, I want to watch "Tortilla Soup", thanks for the recommendation and yes, I will remember not to watch "Cache". Thanks, Les!

@Melissa - lol, yes, judging by the title, I doubt "Smokin' Aces" would have made my list anyway. Still, do thank T. for me! :)

@Starry - I'm glad you haven't been subjected to any duds. I'm watching "Anwar" at the moment. It's good in parts and difficult to take in others.

@Yianna - what a nice thing to say, thank you! Thank you also for your positive endorsement of "Politiki Kouzina", I really look forward to viewing it.

@Jacob - I would love to open a spice shop just like the one in "Mistress of Spices"...everything is so packaged these you never get to inhale the aroma or touch the lovely spices, I miss that!

@Sasgirl - Glad you didn't pick this one up. Hey, how do you like my idea of opening a "Spice Bazaar" here in Toronto? Do you think it'll do well? :) So happy to see you here, it's been a long time! *hugs*

equiano said...

I saw MISTRESS OF SPICES on the shelf at the library this weekend and thought just for a second about borrowing it (both such beautiful people). Judging by your review, just as well I didn't!

Anonymous said...

I think Divakaruni peaked with her first book "Arranged Marriage" and it's been downhill since.

A thing I really dislike about her work (besides the exoticization of India) is her tendency to portray feminism as a solely Western idea. Her protagonists, all too often, are oppressed Indian women who come to America and suddenly discover freedom! liberation! their identity! She doesn't seem to seriously consider the many many women in India who lead liberated lives in their own way.

If I had been remotely tempted to see this film, your review quashed it effectively... Thanks for the heads-up!

gs said...

hi lr
i don't thnk ths movie has been released in india yet.i have read a few reviews and yours has catalysed the desire to see it. aishwarya is no great actor but her looks are so stunning that one is prepared to overlook that if other elements of the mix are fine. i will try to get hold of a dvd and see it soon.thanks for the nice review.

Sai said...

I saw Bride and Prejudice and almost wanted to kill myself! I loved "Bend it like Beckham" but was really disappointed with B and P.

Anonymous said...

This is another bad review for this movie, thereby ensuring that I will never watch it (if I can help it).

Thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and what's even more disappointing is that with two hotties, there is zero chemistry. You really have to hold the director responsible for that.

Hmmm... waste of time award... Bride and Prejudice? What do they have in common? Let's see... hmm... GC and Ash...yikes!

Lotus Reads said...

@Equiano - So glad you didn't, it really is a waste of time. Did you read the book?

@Brownpaper - What interesting observations, thanks for sharing! I have read only two books by this author, one was "Mistress" and the other, a children's book called "The Conchbearer", which I think could also fall in the magic realism genre. Have you read "Sister of My Heart"? I have it here and intended getting to it at some I want to know if I should even bother.

@gs- lol, atleast you're being honest about wanting to see the movie for Aiswarya! Yes, she is beautiful in this movie, a little wooden maybe, but you can tell the camera loves her. Enjoy. Wish I could have sent you a copy.

@Sai - Can you imagine if they had cast Aishwarya in "Bend it Like Bekham"? I am cracking myself up thinking of her playing soccer, lolol

@shripriya - thank you for visiting! Love your blog. Will leave a comment soon.

Anonymous said...

hey Lotus Reads,

I _really_ disliked Sister of my Heart. That book marked the end of my relationship with Divakaruni.

She is, IMO, a good short story writer--2001's "Unknown errors of our Lives" is fine. I have however avoided her novels since Sister... There's so much lazy writing--she shows rather than tells, & resorts to stereotypes and cliches. Golden-skinned, silken-haired heroine named after an Indian goddess of fertility visits America and finds herself blah blah...

Lotus Reads said...

Brown Paper, thank you! I feel a sense of relief to be able to scratch "Sister of my Heart" off my TBR list. I am really looking forward to spending some time reading your blog in the coming days. This little blogging hiatus is a good thing, it's going to give me time to get caught up on some reading (books and blogs). See you soon!

Anonymous said...

My last post should have read "she tells rather than shows" --sorry about the typo!
Glad to be of help. I have a mile-long TBR list myself, and I feel so cheated when I read a mediocre book--I want the author to give me those 5 hours of my life back...

Enjoy your break!

Mellowdrama said...

I didn't care for the book because I felt it was a total rip-off of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (written much earlier) The movie has been lambasted here in India, give me WATER any day tho there again, Bapsi's book was a rather insipid affair - but can't really blame her coz she based the book on the movie. Ough!I think pretty Ash cannot act - she should call it quits and stick with magazine covers. Hhehe I am a bitch! Byo and what have you been reading lately. Have a great holiday

J said...

I read this book a long time ago, probably when you did, and I liked it. Thanks for the review, as now I will keep my happy memories and not ruin them with the book. :)

Movies to avoid, I'm not coming up with any right now. Food movies to enjoy, though...I think my favorite of all time is "Babette's Feast", based on the short story by Isaac Dinisen (Karen Blixen). Maybe read the story first, because it's a very subtle film...very internal. I saw the film first, really enjoyed it, then read the book, and saw the film again, and loved it 5X more. So either way, two big thumbs up for Babette's Feast. :)

Menchie said...

the book sounds interesting but will take your advice about the movie although the actress is beautiful! (love the shot with the two of them on the bed of chili).

movies i've seen so far this year is music and lyrics -- entertaining in a very light sort of way.

i'm getting a lot of books to read from your blog! the last one i read that had an Indian theme was Village Bride of Beverly Hills. A light read but I enjoyed it just the same. It was fascinating to read about the local customs.

Anonymous said...

Read the book, and I loved the movie. Ash can do no wrong for me, ah...what a girl.

Di Mackey said...

I adored this book, it's much-treasured and stuck back home in New Zealand. I didn't realise there was a movie, thanks for posting news of it.

Amelia said...

The images you posted look interestng. Sorry to hear it was a waste of time, though.

My waste of time movie was Stranger Than Fiction. I fell asleep twice - in the theater! Everyone else seemed to love it, though. Not me!

Indu M said...

Hi Lotus,

Loved your review (Especially the bit about the singing spices) and am definitely taking your advice on skipping this movie. Why are so many of these cross-cultural films so hopeless? I watched 'Bride and Prejudice' recently and regretted the time wasted.

I would love to read your review on 'The Namesake', that I heard is good. Have you seen it?

Anonymous said...

I followed your the link from Trupti's site...good review, and I have a great movie to recommend to's called "Like Water For Chocolate" was a Mexican film from a few years back that won the best film award at the Cannes Film it got best foreign film at the U.S. Academy Awards...I forget the title in Spanish, but if you can handle subtitles, that version is far better than the dubbed version.

Aarti said...

I think I've voiced before here how I don't think Aishwarya has much chemistry with anyone, really, on-screen! Even with Abhishek, though hopefully that won't continue after the marriage- set for April 20th, I think? I wonder if the wedding and reception will look EXACTLY like a scene out of a Karan Johar film!

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Seattle! I found your blog searching for others who enjoyed Mistress of Spices ;} Great blog! I look forward to reading some of your book suggestions!

Anonymous said...

mmm this film was different, not totally real, not totally dream either...kind of mixture...taking the audience into a fantastic ambiance while still keeping the contact with the realities of the world.
I liked Aishwarya Rai's acting quite a lot...but for sure it was not striking as in a bolywood movie such as Devdas, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Guru...
Thanks for sharing!