Aishwarya Ray


The Mistress Of Spices

Stars: Aishwarya Ray

Director: Paul Mayeda Berges

Rating: PG

* (out of five)

There is nothing worse than a bad movie that thinks it’s good for you. But only slightly less excruciating is a bad movie that thinks it’s adorable.

The Mistress Of Spices casts the luminous, Bollywood-honed Aishwarya Ray as Tilo, who is, well, a mistress of spices — a sort of combination fortune teller, faith healer and apothecary who runs a shop in the East Indian community of San Jose, across the bay from San Francisco. She provides her customers with sage counsel, herbal mixes and the occasional glass of lime soda, and in her down time she communes with her spices — literally.

The movie’s attempt at magic realism has Tilo talking to her wares in a constant voice-over that grows sillier and sillier as the film progresses, though the struggle to suspend disbelief is lost fairly early on, right around the time Dylan McDermott crashes into the picture as her American love interest and she asks the red chillies why they didn’t warn her.

The Mistress Of Spices marks Ray’s reunion with the team of Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, who last gave us Bride & Prejudice. Chadha directed that one, while her co-writer (and husband) Berges takes the center seat this time, but there’s no real distinction between the two, except perhaps that Chadha’s got a better eye: Berges’ visual approach mostly involves blocking a shot so that something important is pushed just out of frame, which is more irritating than stylish.

This is an insipid film. I can understand why the chillies didn’t warn an unbeliever like me, but surely the cardamom had sense enough to say something.