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!”).

M

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.