It is beautiful but bland: Mistress of Spices
Everything about this movie is beautiful Aishwarya Rai's etherealness, the heady colours of the film and its spices. And yet, for such a fiery, volatile subject, Paul Mayeda Berges' film is bland and often a crashing bore.
Based on the book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, `Mistress of Spices,' bears a resemblance to `Like Water for Chocolate', where food plays an important role in a person's desires.
Rai plays Tilo, an Indian woman who runs a spice shop in the suburbs of San Francisco. She was magically transported there to fulfil her destiny as a Mistress of Spices, a person who can find the right spice for each person and occasion cinnamon to gain friends, tulsi to remember and garlic for a passionate night.
The catch is that she should never project her desires on the spices as this will diminish her powers and warp her commitment to her job. So when she falls in love with a biker, Doug, who skids to a halt outside her shop, her world goes haywire.
Rai's performance as this superwoman of the kitchen cupboard is exasperating. She moves through the movie with her mouth half-open, like she's waiting to be kissed. She comes across as too self-absorbed to be concerned about any of her customers.
If you've seen Penelope Cruz in `Woman on Top', or even Nigella Lawson in action, you'll know how sensuous women can be around food. But Rai seems so disconnected from her precious spices that the film should have been called `Distress of Spices.' Even the `vamp' red chillies that rattle warnings through the film are more evocative. But even this is passable compared to the actual love story. Once Doug (Dylan McDermott) enters her spice shop and her heart, the most insipid affair begins.
The difficulty with this story is that there is no physical passion between Tilo and Doug. Everything is in the mind, so the chemistry between the two is crucial. But if you have seen McDermott in `The Practice,' you know that he's hardly one to set the night on fire with a sizzling look. Rai has the same problem; her beauty is imperturbable.
If you are a fan of Aishwarya Rai, do watch the film. It offers a feast for the eyes but, unfortunately, nothing for the soul.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu