Mississippi Masala

Director: Mira Nair
Screenwriters: Sooni Taraporevala

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Mira Nair’s second feature film, following up on her spectacular debut, Salaam Bombay, is beautifully crafted social melodrama, which is at once a serious portrayal of racial tension between ethnic communities in the United States and a distinctive love story. As she explains in an introduction to the film, masala literally means a “collection of hot spices of different colors. . . .The whole film is a masala, because it involves several different countries, actors of three nations and clashing cultures.” Shot on location in Kampala, Uganda and Greenwood, Mississippi, the film tells the story of an upper-class Indian family forced to flee Idi Amin’s tyranny in 1972. After nearly two decades of travel and expatriate existence, the family finally finds itself in a small Mississippi backwater, Greenwood, where they join relatives in running a motel. Their beautiful daughter, Mina, is basically adjusted and “Westernized,” and obviously better educated and more capable than the day-to-day jobs she has at the motel. When she accidently (literally) meets Demetrius, an enterprising young carpet cleaner, their relationship creates an uproar amongst their respective family and friends. The closet racism which has remained hidden behind a veneer of unity (people of color will stand together against whites) rears its ugly head and results in dire consequences.

Nair’s film is deliberately paced and evolves with a particular attention to the insularity and double binds experienced by Indian communities struggling to survive in the United States. The love story is as old as Romeo and Juliet, but it’s illuminated here by an original voice and sensibility that find new dimensions and life in this familiar territory. Unself-consciously directed, without any hint of sermonizing or didacticism, the film is superbly acted. Mina, as played by Sarita Choudhury, is a sensual, enrapturing presence, and Denzel Washington’s portrayal of a young black attempting to rise in the “new South” suggests all the expected contradictions. But as Nair states, “This is a film about the human condition, a film in which we respect the particularity of each character, but in that particularity there is a universal seed.” In Mississippi Masala Nair once again proves herself a commentator of extraordinary insight and power.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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