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<i>The Mistress of Spices</i>

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By: Taran Adarsh, IndiaFM

Friday, April 28, 2006

After collaborating with wife Gurinder Chadha on Bend It Like Bechham and Bride And Prejudice, screenwriter Paul Mayeda Berges makes his directorial debut with The Mistress of Spices. Starring Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott and armed with a premise that has potential to appeal to the East and West audiences both, The Mistress of Spices should've been a riveting experience.

But The Mistress of Spices falters, and falters terribly at that. Plenty of reasons...

  • Adapted by Berges and Chadha from the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the execution of the subject is a complete downer.

  • What makes matters worse is the slow pacing of the film. The story unfolds at a lethargic pace, with boredom seeping in after an interesting start.

  • Also, the chemistry between the lead pair -- Dylan and Aishwarya -- which should've been the highpoint of the enterprise, is frosty.

To sum up, the spices are bland this time!

The Mistress of Spices looks at the conflicts faced by Tilo [Aishwarya Rai], a beautiful young woman trained in the ancient and magical art of spices. Ordained with special powers to help those that come to her, Tilo can sense people's problems with a startling ability to see into their past and future.

Tilo works in a small San Francisco store called 'Spice Bazaar', where, with the guidance of her spices, she finds the perfect remedy for anyone who walks through her door. For her powers to work, she must obey three simple, but strict rules: She must use the spices only to help others, she must not touch another human's skin and she must never leave her store.

When Doug [Dylan McDermott], an architect, crashes his Harley Davison outside her San Francisco store, she has to tend to his wounds and her life is changed forever. For the first time, Tilo's own desires are stirred -- is there more to life than helping others? Tilo knows the rules and her spices warn her to stay away. But Doug doesn't have any spices telling him what to do and soon returns to ask her on a date.

No matter how hard she resists him, his persistence, honesty and friendship draws them closer to each other. When they accidentally touch, another rule is broken and the spices are enraged. The spices are in no mood for either leniency or romance, but Tilo is captivated by the force of love and agrees to go on a date leaving her spices behind. The spices begin to punish her -- the more she falls in love and defies the rules, the more her customers suffer.

All Tilo wants to do is carry on her work and fall in love as well, but she is forced into a painful dilemma. If she turns her back on her way of life, all the people that she has helped will suffer, but if she doesn't, she will lose Doug forever.

Paul Mayeda Berges had a fascinating story on hand and even the screen adaptation of the novel has its high points, but it's the powerless execution of the subject material that makes the film sink faster than Titanic. There's not one sequence in the film that you actually cherish, primarily because the narrative is handled in the most slapdash manner.

Tilo's relationships with her clientele consume most of the time. And that tends to make the proceedings monotonous. Tilo's relationship with Doug and the 'anger' of spices at the growing friendship could've been depicted far more interestingly, but the impression you get after having watched the film is that the director was more keen to tell the qualities of the spices rather than a sound story. That's precisely why the film makes a zilch impact!

Santosh Sivan's cinematography and the art design are up to the mark. Only thing, the director hasn't done justice to the beauty of San Francisco. There was scope to show several breath-taking locations of the city when Doug and Tilo spend an entire day together. The instrumental version of a yesteryear hit works beautifully in the romantic scene.

Aishwarya looks ethereal and impresses in parts, not in entirety. Dylan is strictly okay. Again, the director hasn't tapped his potential to the fullest. Anupam Kher goes over the top. Nitin Ganatra pitches in a decent performance. Ayesha Dharker is wasted. Ditto for Zohra Segal and Padma Lakshmi.

On the whole, The Mistress of Spices is a spiceless, bland fare with nothing to excite the moviegoer. At the box-office, this one's a disaster!

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