Masala is an indy Indian film from way back in 1992 that still seems edgy today, because it in no way sticks to the formalities of proper ancient Hindu culture.
It's hard to say what the "main" plot of Masala is. After all, "masala" is a term used in India to describe a mix of spices (thanks to the DVD extras for clarifying for me). But for starters, we have Krishna (played by director Srinivas Krishna), a down on his luck young man just out of detox, living in Canada, who is still dealing with loss of his parents in a plane crash when he was young—a plane he was supposed to be on. There's only one place to go. The home of his aunt and uncle. His uncle, Lallu (played by Saeed Jeffrey, who takes on a trio of roles in this film), is in the money-making business. Mr. Tikkoo (Saeed Jeffrey again), apparently Lallu's brother-in-law, is a passive man whose biggest joy is his stamp collection. And in his stamp collection is a rare historical Canadian stamp worth 5 million dollars. And just how did he get that stamp? Well, Grandma (Zohra Segal), who is very non-traditional despite her age, has discovered that she can contact the campy god, Lord Krishna (Saeed Jeffrey for the third time…and the third time the name Krishna appears in this paragraph). Turns out, she is worshipping a very special video tape in which she can communicate with the god, who, considering he is being used like a genie in a bottle, can grant wishes…and looks very much like a dragged out version of the genie made famous by Robin Williams. When Grandma asks for wealth for the family, a series of mishaps brings the stamp into Tikkoo's collection. Meanwhile, there's Tikkoo's daughter, who wants to pilot a plane, and Lallu's son, who is a major horn dog about to be wed in an arranged marriage. While all these crazy subplots whirl around, the bottom line is that Krishna must live out his destiny. And as family lives clash and collide in matters of race, religion, socio-economic status and sexuality, planes become a strong symbol for fate throughout the film, which is filled with humor and tragedy, as well as wacky musical numbers that could have been left on the cutting room floor of Moulin Rouge. There's even a knife fight that gets its inspiration from West Side Story (at least, that's my guess).
This one is quirky and confusing, sometimes over-the-top, yet oddly compelling. The director's vision is passionately surreal, and his willingness to take ever serious Hindu culture and religion to levels of camp makes it more accessible to those of us who are really not exposed to it. Sure, there's a plot, and while it's a simple one (that really humanizes the characters and makes it possible for everyone to relate to them), it's made all the more interesting by a visually metaphorical experience that is everything an artsy indy is supposed to be, while remaining always original and fresh and never affected. However, having said all this, the movie doesn't quite have the most uplifting conclusion, but the director does defend the ending on his commentary, and it makes a whole lot of sense.
The anamorphic 1:78:1 presentation hasn't gotten the grandest of transfers. The image was quite grainy. The color was heavily oversaturated—although the movie is so colorful visually anyway that it almost works to good effect here. As a result though, the black were grey and lackluster. There's edge enhancement, and the bleeding over of the mish-mosh of colors leads to a soft image with no depth, and which sometimes steps into blurry territory. As for the print itself, there are hints of dirt and dust scattered throughout, but…well…it's mostly hidden by the high levels of color.
There's a 2.0 and 5.1 audio track option. The 5.1 track was a fine surround experience. The use of Indian music was especially effective. All around, there was excellent crystal clear surround travel that filled the room with sound.
There are some goodies here. For starters, the scene index offers 24 chapter breaks, subtitles are available in English or French, and the original trailer is also included. Other features are:
FEATURETTE—15-minute segment featuring interviews with the director and the cast. They discuss working together, and the rolls of spirituality and sexuality in the film. The good thing is, they all seem to really GET the movie they made and appreciate its impact—and the controversy of it when it was originally released. The featurette also helps to clarify some issues of character relationships and plot within the sometimes confusing movie.
PHOTO GALLERY—26 shots in color and b&w, including stills from the film, and some behind the scenes shots.
COMMENTARY BY DIRECTOR SRINIVAS KRISHNA—the director discusses his inspiration in making the film, casting issues with men of Indian heritage—and how he was forced into the lead roll in his own film, metaphors and symbolism, and religious issues. This commentary also happens to be very much a summary of the film's plot as it's happening, as if the director is refreshing it in his mind, out loud, on tape as he's recording the commentary. Also, some of his comments are repetition of info we learn in the featurette, which isn't actually unusual.
Masala is everything an indy film should be. It's weird, often confusing, campy and bizarre, exposes us to a group of people we know nothing about, and will probably get a mixture of viewer responses, from "what the hell was that" to "that was brilliant." Which category do you fit into? You decide.