Restored on DVD: Mirch Masala

Rating: ★★★1/2

Verdict: One among the classics that pioneered the league of women-centric cinema. 

Review: The distinctiveness in films made under the roof of National Film Development Corporation of India has seen accolades and awards in equal measure. Director Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala is a testament that briefs a story of womenfolk in colonial India of the 1940s. The film that released in 1987 qualifies to be regarded as a strong contender in the list of female-oriented stories.
 
Subedar, the grim tax collector finds power in his sadistic ways of exploiting the helplessness of the illiterate villagers. The story of Mirch Masala reveals Sonbai, another character with integrity, confidence and beauty. The tax collector’s demands do not cease up to livestock and grains from the villagers. His lust and desires are fulfilled by the gutless villagers and Mukhi (chieftain). 
Soon after Sonbai’s husband leaves the village, Subedar eyes her. When he conveys his immoral desires, she replies with a smack on his face.
 
 
When power and ego are challenged by a low caste woman, the Subedar summons his soldiers to drag Sonbai and throw her at his feet. After she is chased, a guard at the local spice factory, Abbu Miyan, admits her and shuts the door just in time. The remainder of the film sees dialogues exchanged between men from the two sides of the factory gate concerning the release of Sonbai.
Ketan Mehta’s style of direction and Jehangir Choudhury’s lens lets the viewer experience the heat and dust. Rajat Dholakia works on the music to consciously switch moods as the images shift on screen. The fierceness in Sonbai is brought on screen with perfection by the gifted talent Smita Patil. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri, the stalwarts of Indian cinema shine again as Subedar and Abbu Miyan respectively. Also making brief appearances that sustain because of brilliance in acting are Suresh Oberoi, Ratna Pathak Shah, Supriya Pathak and Deepti Naval.
 
The compelling narrative clubbed with a paced screenplay, engages the viewer. However, Mirch Masala forgets to reason the inability of soldiers to make amends for climbing the factory wall. Nonetheless, with a few lows Mirch Masala’s lasting effect on the viewer is because of a well-written script. Also, the costume designing is in sync with the place from where the characters come. 
When bargaining for Sonbai yields no result, Subedar decides to ride to the gates. The final confrontation leads to forcefully opening the gates to which the women inside the spice factory rebel. The film is aptly named since the need to fight for justice ultimately teems with Mirch Masala (freshly ground spices) as the last resort.
 
Why should you watch this film?
Mirch Masala has a strong identity and a distinct voice. Watch it hence.
 
Mirch Masala is a title under the NFDC label ‘Cinemas of India’. The film is out on home video by NFDC.
 
Soham Bhattacharyya

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