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.


24 thoughts on “A to Z of Films Meme (M)

  1. 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.

  2. 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)?

  3. 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..

  4. So, I didn’t disappoint you! Do you like it as much as I do?

    “And your review has done justice to the movie.” – Thanks a lot! I spent hours researching and ruminating. At the end I had read so much that I didn’t know where to start and what to write! 🙂

    Regarding the “MMB connection” – I didn’t have any connection. I simply used it as a rental music library for a few months until I got the divertimento I wanted! There is absolutely no connection between MMB and my watching Mephisto/Maria Brown. They were just part of “PCB connection” – Prabhat Chitra Mandal! 🙂

    I haven’t seen The Murderers Are Among Us. Hmm.

    Now, leave me aside. What about you? How have you seen so many films of world cinema? Where did you see Mephisto/Maria Brown? Did you like Klaus Maria Brandauer’s performance?

    After watching Totoro, I can assure you that there can be no such thing as “good for a first Miyazaki”. Go ahead, watch, and enjoy. As simple as that. That’s the beauty.

  5. Do watch it again, Dev. And remember: just $100,000. NFDC used to make such great films – Mirch Masala, Ardh Satya, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, they’re simply too many to list.

    Isn’t Naseer unbelievably awesome? Portraying Pestonjee and the Subedar at the same time? I shudder even thinking about it.

    What about the other noteworthy mentions? Would love your expert feedback!

  6. 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!

  7. Mahendra, I suspect that if they have to make the same film today with digital cameras and technology, it will be even cheaper than that. Infact people make movies in US/Canada with that sort of budget ;). Actually, it’s the promotion and the marketing which takes away lot of your money..actual production costs and actor fees can be really controlled especially if you get amateur actors. More on that later.. 🙂
    Ya, Naseer is a gem of an actor..
    Well Sir, Iam not any expert..plzz!!! I mentioned manchurian candidate in me meme..
    Havent seen any of the other three..

  8. 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. 🙂

  9. I guess everything has a context of its time and place!

    And there: you give us an expert comment and then go on to say you’re not an expert – how can we believe you? 🙂

    The reason I asked about others is because of Mephisto. Even if you don’t watch any of the others, you MUST watch Mephisto. I think Brandauer will blow you away.

  10. Thanks, Amit! Yes, there were many, and I did consider Manthan as well. But like you said, reducing the list is the most engaging, and often frustrating part of this meme!

  11. More like I didn’t disappoint myself – you have this awesome repertory of good cinema, was happy I could guess a few 🙂

    Yes you told me before there was no MMB connection; I don’t know why I keep associating you with it! Never heard of Prabhat Chitra Mandal (or did you just make it up?!)

    How I’ve seen these films – let’s just say I lucked out when it came to knowing wonderful, insightful people (this blog would be an example :P). A few recommendations here, a few books there, a couple spontaneous discussions. Majoring in languages/literature helps.

    Will look for that Miyazaki first thing. I think (hope) the kids will like it too!

  12. gauri, I still have to be disappointed by a Miyazaki film, but my favorite is “Princess Mononoke” – so if you’re looking for a first film, that’d be my suggestion.

  13. Mahendra, I was reading a book on Shyam Benegal’s films and he mentioned that while NFDC was wonderful when it came to producing films and that did help many film-makers get a start, it failed miserably – or rather had no plans whatsoever – when it came to marketing those films and to connect them to viewers (other than showing them on DD) in cinema halls. And funding too failed sometimes, as Benegal’s “Manthan” was financed and produced by co-operative dairy farmers – perhaps a first (and unique?) in cinema history.

  14. Thanks, Amit. I quite strongly believe in the funda of “the right first film/book” by a certain director/author; call it quirk 🙂 Will put Princess Mononoke on hold right away. Gosh I need to write all these good movies down. I gave up that text file somewhere in the middle.

    Thanks again!

  15. 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.

  16. You have to believe me because sooner or later you will realize that I was only speaking tuth. 🙂
    I checked for Mephisto at my regular DVD rental place and they dont have it..perhaps I have to get it from some other place now.

  17. Prabhat Chitra Mandal is the oldest film club in Mumbai. I’ve mentioned (and linked) about it briefly in my ‘Cinematic Idiosyncracies‘ post.

    Hmm…lucky and modest you. Many people know many wonderful, insightful people, hear about recommendations, read books, have discussions, but never get around to watching a plethora of such films! 🙂

  18. Hey Gabriel, nice to see you back here! I haven’t seen Munich, and every time Mississippi Burning was on TV, somehow the atmosphere at home wasn’t suitable so I skipped it, as I wanted to watch it ‘properly’. It has been on my to-watch list for a long time.

    Memento and Matrix are wonderful of course. If you didn’t know, there was a Bollywood remake of Memento that did pretty well in India recently.

Comments are closed.