A to Z of Films Meme (M)

The most commonly uttered line in English films is “Let’s get outta here” (or its variants). The most commonly uttered sentence in Indian Hindi films is “Driver, us gaadi ka peecha karo!” (“Driver, follow that car!”).


Mirch Masalamirchmasala

What is the price of a woman’s honor?

In colonial India, Tax Collectors tyrannized villages with soldiers, collecting much more than just taxes. One such Collector lusts after one woman (Sonbai) in the village. She refuses to bow and even slaps him. He holds the entire village to ransom. What follows is a social drama that is both agonizing and inspiring.

Sonbai rushes to safety in the confines of a spice factory, where several village women work. The entire men folk in this patriarchal society are cowards, and the showdown between Sonbai and the Collector brings the village to its knees. The only support Sonbai gets is from the gatekeeper of the factory, the town’s Gandhian teacher, and a few women led by the mayor’s wife. Needless to say, whatever the moral conviction of all the supporters, the physical and cultural power is sufficient to subdue them.

The drama progresses to the horrendous possibility of a village-approved rape and the inevitable final face-to-face confrontation. The varied reactions of the villagers to the unfolding events provide the perfect social backdrop to the drama. The climax is cathartic without letting the viewer free of the weight of the story.

SpicesNaseeruddin Shah proves his mettle as one of India’s finest actors with the devilish Collector. I have heard that he enacted this brutal role while at the same time performing in another film Pestonjee as a meek Parsi, which is remarkable. Smita Patil epitomizes the beautiful, strong-willed Sonbai. Her passionate performance is the backbone of the film. Om Puri as the gatekeeper and Deepti Naval as the mayor’s wife are solid as are the rest of the supporting cast.

If I were asked to select 5 Indian films to be shown to a foreign film critic who is a newcomer to Indian cinema, Mirch Masala (Spices) will be one of them. This is one of the most powerful films made in India, with a compelling script, gripping drama, magnificent performances, brilliant cinematography, great direction, and an overall uplifting experience.

If the cinematic production seems primitive (as I saw in some international reviews), one should realize that the film was made in a remote village of India, the cast and crew surviving a 15-day shooting schedule in the desert miles away from anywhere, and in a budget of just $100,000.

Washington Post’s review compares the ruthlessness of the drama, the vibrancy of character, and its moral obstinacy to Kurosawa’s samurai movies – an interesting viewpoint that had not occurred to me.

Also read Ketan Mehta’s interview with the New York Times to get inside the mind of the director.

Runner Up

There are so many contenders (see below) that I cannot select one of them.

Noteworthy Mentions

Mephisto, Istvan Szabo’s film adaptation of Klaus Mann’s novel on Goethe’s Mephistopheles/Faust theme. Klaus Maria Brandauer’s performance is one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen in cinema.

My Neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki’s fantasy animation creation, rated one of the best family films of all time. No villains, no fights, no darkness, no scary monsters, yet full of awe and adventure!

The Manchurian Candidate, a chilling classic, a timeless political and social thriller with Frank Sinatra’s best performance.

The Marriage of Maria Brown, Fassbinder’s most commercially successful film, a landmark in German cinema for its personal view at post-war Germany. Amazing that he could direct with this precision under the influence of drugs.

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  • I Loved the film.You can’t single out a single actor for good performance in this film, every one of them was outstanding.The end was superb(I love happy endings).Brilliant film.

  • Mahendra, I won’t be exaggerating if I say I was waiting for you to get to M to see if you write about this one :)) And your review has done justice to the movie.

    If I hadn’t known your MMB connection, I’d be surprised about Mephisto & Ehe der Maria Brown. (Also, The Murderers Are Among Us?)

    The ’62 Manchurian Candidate would most definitely be on my list too. I was so focused on Mirch Masala, I forgot to look out for this one 😛 I liked Harvey’s performance too.

    Will look out for Totoro. Miyazaki films have been highly recommended to us, but didn’t get around to watching any yet. Is this a good one for a first Miyazaki (if there is such a thing)?

  • Dev

    Well, I had seen Mirch Masala long back. I remember it to be a fine film but your review makes me want to look at the movie again. Speaking of Smita Patil, she was one of the most beautiful Indian actresses of all time..and very talented too. Naseer’s acting in Pestonjee was one of his finest..

  • Hey, Mirch Masala is too good. I couldn’t remember it at all while I did my own meme, your post reminded me. Thank you (for reminding), its a well-deserved choice!

  • Another good choice, Mahendra. I liked this film a lot, and there are so many movies with M vying for attention – “Manthan” and “Matrix, The” come to mind. I think I will get to this tag soon – I’m compiling some favorites of mine, though the difficult part is to pare it down to 1 or 3. 🙂

  • Mad Max… would that count as two M’s? Some of my favourite “M” movies would also be Munich (2005), Memento (2000), The Matrix (1999) and I’d also recommend Mississippi Burning, 1988, with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.

  • vigneshjvn

    Oh, you ought to watch “The Man from Earth” as well. Has a lot in common with 12 angry men – one room for a set, filled with conversations, and keeps you hooked on till the end! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0756683/

  • Modern Times … Chaplin at his funniest .

  • Hi Prax, yes, lovely movie. Didn’t make it to my list, but an all time favorite.

    Also, thanks for alerting me to the comments problem. It seems the comments order was broken for these older posts. Your comment was showing up but in between the rest of the comments (it was also showing up correctly in the footer widget).

    I have disabled threading of comments for now, and that appears to show the comments in correct chronological order.