10 May, 2010

1. Mirch Masala

Pre script: I decided on random watching, simply because of movie availability issues. Now, I'll plunge in head on.

With a stunning cast of Naseeruddin Shah (as the subedaar or tax collector), Smita Patel as Sonbai (the strong female protagonist), Suresh Oberoi as the Mukhi (village head), Deepti Naval as Saraswati (his willful, brave wife) and Om Puri as Abu Rahim (the caretaker of a chili warehouse or mirch karkhana), Mirch Masala promises a lot. And then it goes ahead a delivers much more. Supporting roles are played by the lovely Supriya Pathak, Ratna Shah and Raj Babbar among others. I am not going to give you a synopsis, because a perfectly well-written one can be found here. [Do read it, might motivate you to watch the movie!]

What I want to discuss is this. Naseeruddin Shah portrays the stern dark character of the terrorizing subedaar, the tax collector of a village set in the parched landscapes of Rajasthan. He is depicted as a whimsical mean man, abusing the village women as he pleases, exhorting the high lagaan inspite of a prolonged drought - a crude man without remorse or compassion. The craftsmanship with which Naseeruddin Shah portrays the dark character, skilfully introducing shades of unexpected humour in the man, makes the villainy at once so tyrannical and yet so fractured.

Early in the movie, Smita Patel's Sonbai exhibits gumption in trying to stop her husband (Raj Babbar in a guest appearance) to stop going to town ("sheher") to take up a job, in talking back to the terrible subedaar as he terrorizes over the village women. By standing up to him and slapping (!) him to avoid his advances, she does the unthinkable - a women standing up for her dignity. It is her steadfast courage and quiet willpower that propels the movie to its breathtaking climax. The other strong female character is Deepti Naval (whom I believe to be one of the most beautiful woman ever) playing Saraswati, the Mukhi's (village head's) wife. Her will to educate her daughter in a society where female literacy is unheard of, courage to stand up to her chauvinistic husband and powers of persuasion to gather the village women to stand up to the men is often painful in its chilling portrayal. Her plight is well-depicted in the following conversation with her husband:

Mukhi, retorting when asked about where he sleeps at night: "Itne bade gaon ka mukhi ek aurat nahin rakh sakta?"
Saraswati in indignant anger: "Aur main aurat nahin hoon?"
"Tum biwi ho."

And then there is the undertone of comedy I enjoyed so much: Marvelling at the sound emanating from a gramophone (something the subedaar doesn't fail to show off at every occasion), a villager remarks, "Yeh cheez kya hai sasuri?" The naai or barber (a pivotal figure in any rural society) hovers over Shah with his razors and foam in perfect synchrony to the scratchy voice. Perfect.

Just before the climax of the movie, comes the most poignant scene (and my personal favourite). The village women, imprisoned in the mirchi karkhana, taunt Sonbai for her precocious behaviour, insinuating that she must have provoked the subedaar and how the entire situation was her fault, whoever heard of a woman shouting at a man, leave alone hit at him? This reaction is a tragic commentary on how women view themselves. As flesh to fulfil a man's insatiable desire, as beasts of burden carrying infinite pots of water, as bodies that take the fierce lashes of anger, as wombs to undergo the pain of childbirth. They see nothing wrong in the subedaar's carnal demands. Sonbai appears a fool to not comply.

I will not mention Om Puri's role for though it played a pivotal role in the movie, I felt it was the virtues of his character and not his acting that deserve a mention. So let's leave it at that. What I would like to mention is that even today, in any given situation there are the honest and the schemers. In any time frame and society, there are those who will cower and those that will lead through their courage and foresight. The best part is, to do right, you do not need to be part of a revolution. You can almost always 'be the change you want to see'.


  1. Man..... are you really going to talk about all the 143 movies (if you manage to go all the way)

  2. Ha ha I can see you're terrified by my intentions! No, I won't go detailing every movie I watch, that will just be painfully exhausting.

  3. yeh, you got it right. that sure will be painfully exhausting....for us



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