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Mistress of Spices

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Directed by: Paul Mayeda Berges          Gurinder Chadha (screenplay)
spice
Credited cast: 
Aishwarya Rai ....  Tilo   Dylan McDermott ....  Doug   Ayesha Dharker ....  Hameeda
Nitin Chandra Ganatra ....  Haroun   Sonny Gill Dulay ....  Jagjit   Anupam Kher ....  Geeta's Grandfather
Padma Lakshmi ....  Geeta   Paul Bhattacharjee ....  Ramu   Harvey Virdi ....  Geeta's Mother

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 (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. She has the power to see visions of the future and soon ends up helping a whole coterie of characters, these including 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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