The Mistress of Spices
Paul Mayeda Berges
- Aishwarya Rai as Tilo
- Dylan McDermott as Doug
- Nitin Ganatra as Haroun
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Kwesi
A charming enough romance movie with mystical elements, The Mistress of Spices unfortunately lacks the ability to fully engage you in its story. Reading the synopsis, the film sounds very similar to Chocolat, but I must say that I enjoyed that movie a lot more than this one. But there is Aishwarya Rai adding passion and some striking visuals to be found. It’s just unfortunate that the movie doesn’t really pull many of the elements together well enough which does harm ones enjoyment of it.
In Oakland, California, Tilo is an Indian woman who owns a spice shop. Yet her job goes merely beyond just selling spices to others who enter her store. In flashbacks and voice overs, we learn that Tilo from birth had the ability to see the future and how she was orphaned after bandits killed her parents. She managed to escape her kidnappers and washed up on an island inhabited by young girls and an elderly teacher of wisdom. Over the years, Tilo blossomed into a beautiful girl under tutelage and become part of an ancient order of women who have connections to the spices and the magical forms they possess. When each girl is old enough, they are sent around the world to use the spices to help the lives of others. Now years later, Tilo owns her shop and uses her gifts to help her customers with their dilemmas and tribulations. For example she helps a young boy who is having trouble with bullies gain confidence, Haroun, a former cab driver asks her help in order for him to get a job again and she aids a young men in his attempts to get a girl to notice him. Yet in order to remain with her gifts of foresight and influence, she must adhere to three strict rules. She must not use her powers for her own personal gain, she must not leave the store and she must not touch the skin of anyone. If she were to do any of these things, the power of the spices would wreak havoc on her and end with possibly dire consequences. Yet change and fate are just around the corner for the poised Tilo when handsome architect Doug crashes his motorcycle outside her store and she tends to his wounds. The instant attraction between the two is palpable and when he touches her skin for the briefest of seconds, her powers slowly begin to wither. All of the good she has done suddenly turns quite sour just like the wise leader of her order said and it is up to Tilo to choose whether she should follow her heart’s desire or continue in the footsteps of her destiny.
Firstly, it must be said that The Mistress of Spices is a feast for the eyes whichever way you look at it. Lashed with colours in every frame and an exotic atmosphere, the visuals are very well done and create a culture clash between the ways that Tilo has been taught and how it is changed by her time in America. Yet for all the visual opulence on display, director Paul Mayeda Berges forgets the story and for that reason the whole film doesn’t grab you and absorb you. It’s not that the film is short on ideas, in fact it has quite a few interesting ideas like the mystical power of the spices and the rules, but none of them are given enough power or credibility due to a rushed script. If the script had expanded on a few more things and not been as quick to reach the end, The Mistress of Spices may have been very interesting to watch but alas, it only has a few charms to it that keep you from reaching for the stop button. The other part of the script that bogs it down is the overuse of voice overs from Tilo. In the beginning it is fine because it sets up a lot about her character and her back story, but then as it goes on it gets very repetitive to listen to and at times needless. Plus the movie is supposed to be a romance tinged with some mysticism, and yes the mysticism is there but the romance feels to rushed. And considering that The Mistress of Spices is a romance movie, it doesn’t exactly help that the romance feels undeveloped. On the positive side of things, an exotic musical score is very well composed with female voices, sitars and building drums hinting at possible passion.
Thank goodness there is the beautiful Aishwarya Rai at the centre of this movie to keep it afloat. Rai exhibits poise, dignity and resolve under threat with skill and it is really hard to take your eyes off her. The film may be sketchy, but the same criticism can’t be aimed at Rai who gives Tilo grace and sympathy as her adherence to ancient rules is tested to the limit by the possibility of love. Unfortunately, no one else in the film fares as well as Rai due to the ropy script. Dylan McDermott has the looks for the part but the character comes off as bland because of how he is written. Nitin Ganatra and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje are fine in their roles as two of Tilo’s customers but like with McDermott, are given nothing much to do.
So while Aishwarya Rai keeps you watching and the music and visuals are delightful, The Mistress of Spices is just too flawed, due to uneven direction and an unfocused script, to be a good movie which is a real shame considering the things it had going for it.