1992 Directed by Mira Nair. Starring Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Roshan Seth, Sharmila Tagore.
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., Feb. 28, 1992
The lure of the exotic attracts the characters played by Washington and Choudhury and that's this movie's primary appeal as well, but it is the tender love story and sweet human comedy that makes the audience commit for the long haul. When the two young lovers see each other across a crowded dance floor, they're unaware they're looking across a chasm of old history. And when they come together, inevitably drawn by chemistry, they little realize they've set into motion old forces that will make love more difficult than lust. Like the proud African-Americans in Mississippi who have never seen Africa, Choudhury plays Mina, an Indian woman who has never seen India. Her family lived in Uganda for generations and considered themselves Ugandans until Idi Amin's anti-Asian campaigns drove them from their country. In exile in Mississippi they've joined other Indian families who run a string of motels along the highway. Mina's father nurtures resentment towards blacks and specifically an old childhood friend in Uganda that he doesn't even recognize until his daughter's affair with Demetrius -- Washington as a handsome carpet cleaner -- brings it to the surface. For the rest of the clannish Indian community, who consider Mina too dark to be a suitable wife, her affair with a black man highlights their own racial prejudices. Nevertheless, the Indian community identifies with the black community in the face of southern racism. There is much that is funny in human inconsistency and in the petty squabbling that families indulge in and Nair exploits this while she makes more serious points about resentment and loss. Nair begins Mississippi Masala with Mina's family's exile from Uganda, focusing on their luxurious lifestyle and the wrenching pain and fear of their panicked departure. Frequent flashbacks of the achingly beautiful Ugandan countryside emphasize the overwhelming sense of loss felt by Mina's father. In America, the Indian community hangs on to their traditions even though they are forced by circumstances to live in tiny motel room cubicles stuffed with glittering Indian ornamentation. A wedding scene is a sumptuous swirl of color featuring women in gorgeous saris. The soundtrack shifts from Indian pop to delta blues and a later scene provides just as much pleasure with the downhome simplicity of a backyard barbecue at Demetrius's house. It takes love to bring all these elements together into harmony, and Nair makes it look easy even when it's most difficult for her characters.