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Mississippi Masala (The Criterion Collection)
Mira Nair's awkwardly structured by charming interracial romance Mississippi Masala once again emphasizes a fact that's blatantly obvious about America more than any other country: It's a melting pot full of various cultures, races, and faiths blending together, trying, and sometimes struggling, to find common ground when it comes to peace, understanding, and especially love.
Through the impeccable Chemistry between stars Sarita Choudry and Denzel Washington, it tells the romance between an Indian immigrant from Uganda named Mina and an African-American carpet cleaner named Demetrius. The two share a delightful meet-cute when Mina crashes into Demetrius' truck and a simple but passionate romance ensues.
The most captivating moments in Nair's film come during moments that have nothing to do with the plot or narrative conflict. It's the quiet moments between these two characters as they become more and more curious about one another and affectionately probe into the life of someone whose culture is so alien yet so fascinating to them.
Yet in the end, unlike the foreground race politics of Jungle Fever, another interracial romance that came out the same year as Mississippi Masala, there's a touching and universal human element in the way Nair explores this relationship.
The most glaring issue with the film is its structure. It basically has an hour-long first act and takes too long to kick in the main conflict of the story, where the families of the two sides clash because of the different races of the couple. This results in a second act that feels rushed, relegating the complex issue of race in America, even between two non-white races, to simple talking points. It also feels like it's missing the third act, focusing entirely too much on a sub-plot about Mina's father (Roshan Seth) going back to Uganda to reconnect with his estranged best friend.
The film's Mississippi locations are washed in warm yellows and cool blues, emphasizing deftly the differences between the two races at the center of the story. Criterion's new 1080p transfer showcases these colors beautifully without any color bleeding and with a lot of vibrant contrast.
The lossless DTS-HD 2.0 track gets the job done as far as the clarity and range of the dialogue are concerned. The film's jazz score shines with as much depth as the two channel mix can muster.
Commentary: The new commentary by Mira Nair is very informative as it delves into the making of the film.
Conversation between Sarita Choudry and film critic Devika Girish: This is an open and charming conversation where Choudry talks about how she never even thought she'd get the part and, as a budding filmmaker, just wanted to have some work on the film since she admired Nair so much.
Interviews: The disc also includes in-depth interviews with screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala and production designer Mitch Epstein.
Even with its narrative structure problems, Mississippi Masala is a charming American romance that centers on the representation that wasn't found much in the genre at the time, and Criterion's solid presentation deserves at least a look.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com