The aptly titled MASALA--a Hindi word for a melange of spices--is a cheeky blend of domestic farce and political satire concerning the misadventures of a Toronto-based family of Indian emigres. Acid humor and an unusual viewpoint compensate for the film's ragged narrative and occasional
As postal worker Harry Tikkoo (Saeed Jaffrey, in one of three roles) faces financial collapse, his irascible aunt (Zohra Sehgal) asks the god Krishna (Jaffrey) to intercede. Through a divine contrivance, Harry comes into possession of a rare and immensely valuable postage stamp. Before he can
cash in on his windfall, however, the Canadian government claims the stamp as a historical treasure, precipitating a legal battle and a national crisis.
Meanwhile, Harry's cousin Lalloo Bhai (Jaffrey), a prosperous sari merchant, is approached by a cadre of Sikh militants who want to use his shop as a holding area for revolutionary contraband. Though a Hindu, Lalloo Bhai agrees to cooperate in exchange for $500,000 and prospective control of the
sari trade in Khalistan, a theocratic state envisioned by Sikh communalists. Before long, the Mounties are on his trail.
More trouble arrives in the person of Lalloo Bhai's alienated nephew, Krishna (writer-director Srinivas Krishna), an Indo-Canadian angry young man complete with biker jacket and switchblade. Although Lalloo Bhai offers him a home and a job, Krishna leaves no good deed unpunished: in short order,
he insults Lalloo Bhai's friends, dallies with his wife, seduces Harry's daughter, tangles recklessly with racist street toughs, and flees the damage he has caused through an aimless cross-country bus trip.
The film's final moments provide largely unrelated conclusions to each of the three main story lines: Harry effects a compromise with the government through the cynical intervention of the Minister of Multiculturalism; Lallo Bhai's shop is besieged by a team of comically inept Mounties; Krishna's
flirtation with danger culminates in a disturbing episode of racial violence.
Srinivas Krishna's first feature film, MASALA is an ambitious, self-consciously "postmodern" hodgepodge intended to reflect the cultural confusion of young immigrants in racist North America. Its slack structure is sometimes frustrating--subsidiary themes and characters are left undeveloped;
subplots are introduced and arbitrarily abandoned. On the other hand, Krishna's scattershot approach permits him to smuggle in audacious caricatures of Hindu deities and Canadian bureaucrats, deliberately subversive bits of sex and violence, and even a couple of musical numbers--arch parodies of
the delirious song sequences in Bombay commercial films.
Unfortunately, many of the MASALA's high points may be lost on white Americans. The struggle over Harry's stamp, for instance, is largely an in-joke about the contradictions of official multiculturalism in Canada, where a paradoxical bureaucracy is charged simultaneously with preserving minority
cultures and assisting minority assimilation. Additionally, some of the film's best jokes are delivered in a colloquial Hindi for which Krishna neglects to provide subtitles.
Still, even those viewers whose experience of Indian culture is confined to the local curry joint should find in MASALA a tasty, often challenging dish. Extra savor is provided by cinematographer Paul Sarossy's striking use of color and the film-stealing antics of legendary stage actress Sehgal.
(Violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: The aptly titled MASALA--a Hindi word for a melange of spices--is a cheeky blend of domestic farce and political satire concerning the misadventures of a Toronto-based family of Indian emigres. Acid humor and an unusual viewpoint compensate for the film's… (more)