Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Notwithstanding the stark depiction of the plight of women in rural India. Notwithstanding the ire at the cruel Subedar. Notwithstanding the resentment for the spineless men in the film. Mirch Masala unfurls magic everytime. Without fail...
In my consideration this is one of the most powerful films to have been ever produced by the National Film Development Corporation of India. With a very parallel treatment it can beat any commercial potboiler with ease. Suspense, drama and entertainment unfold at an unhurried pace as a bunch of women teach a wicked and promiscuous man a lesson for life. Mehta brings under his aegis a bunch of actors who do nothing but good to the film. Rajat Dholakia lends music that adds ample rustic charm to the plot. Jehangir Chowdhury's camera enlivens the dry landscape. It captures the sensual and exotic beauty of the likes of Sonbai, Saraswati and Tara. And of course, it makes the colour red even hotter. A scene where Sonbai is escaping from the Subedar's men, Chowdhury's lens (taut execution by master Mehta) follow Smita Patil as she runs through heaps of dried red chillies. Her tired and scared disposition, her replendant traditional attire is a contrast to her surroundings. It is almost as if the red is reflected in her eyes. A tigress, with talons that have dared to leave a mark on the lecherous Subedar's face, she is all set for a fight. A fight for dignity and survival. There is no background score save the rustle of the spices and Sonbai's heavy breathing... Lipsmacking!
Wikipedia, where you can read up the story. But, I suggest you watch it first. Let the suspense grip you. Let the sights, sounds and smells enthrall. Let the characters mesmerise. And, let Sonbai and her clan make you scream with joy when they triumph over the devil...
Mirch Masala is a melee of powerful performances. Raj Babbar plays Sonbai's husband who has to rush to the city as he has got a railway's job. Within a few minutes he makes it clear why so many rural folk migrate to the metros. A sensitive man, he promises his wife that he will come back to get her. But will he? Sonbai wonders and so do we. Ahh the question of livelihood???
Then there is Benjamin Gilani, the school master. Ridiculed as the Swaraji, he is probably the only man in the village to openly defy the Subedar. A Gandhian, he is not scared to speak his mind and instill wisdom in the rural menfolk, too comfortable to protest and fight for their honour, if not that of their women. I love the scene where Gilani and the two other men (one of them is Paresh Rawal) force the falling of the pillar to which they are tied. This happens to the second symbol of the fall of autocracy, the first being the crisp slap Sonbai thunders on the Subedar's cheek.
They anger and perplex you, But, they also fight back for Sonbai and demolish the lust that is the root of all worries. They show that when women congregate to fight evil, they are like Durga and Kali. They are the women who men can no longer treat with ridicule and disgust...
Suresh Oberoi (it will take Vivek another birth to be as charismatic!!) is the mukhi of the village. Twisted to the core, Oberoi's booming baritone adds to his fine performance. Not remorseful for maintaining a kept, he almost barks at his wife that if he will not be considered man enough if he does not do so. Civilised society and its rules are strange, huh?
A mediator between the cunning Subedar and the drought-struck villagers, he is one headman who cannot do anything to protect the rights of his men. A toy in the hands of the system, this mukhi is the marvellously spineless owner of false pride.
Whoever worked on the costumes in the film did a superlative job. From the women's colourful ensemble to the men's traditional attires, nothing is amiss. It is like walking amidst these village folk. A riot of colours greet you with aplomb.
Now coming to the one who manages an extra shine amidst this glittering bevy of talents. A villain who is just as spicy as the mirchi in the film, and as cruel as a hungry hyena, Naseeruddin Shah, with his sarcastic grin and handlebar moustache, is the perfect Subedar. His every dialogue is deliciously roguish, his every movement worth a whistle. Diabolical and dreaded, Shah is the film's most prized gem. Sample the scene where he beats up an unfortunate for breaking a gramophone record, the scene where he declares to the mukhi that taxes will be levied no matter what and the one where he fixes his gaze on Sonbai's bare back, only to relish the show of skin and lick his lip with the heinous thought of ravaging her. And also the scene where his gargantuan ego takes a beating (with Sonbai's slap) and he obstinately demands her to be brought to him. A stellar performance by a brilliant, brilliant actor.