By Suruchi Das
What will be your take at your community when it is willing to jeopardize your existence? How will fight an entity so powerful, which can bring down the whole society thwarting upon its feet? That too solo…
Set in the colonial era of early 1940s, the film is based on Gujrati Author Chunilal Madia's short story. In a small village around the region of Rann of Kutch the new Subedar (tax collector) sabotages everything which pleases his eyes. The village property, wealth, cattle and women. One day he crosses paths with Sonbai, and gets a due reward in terms of a tight slap for his uninvited advances.
Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala is meticulously handcrafted artform which has numerous elements of true cinema, a folklorish ecstasy… a never ending chase, and lots and lots of sun-dried red chillies. The village is a land of many tales. Two lovers wanting to be together despite their caste barriers. The silenced wife of the village chieftain who demands for her voice to be heard. The schoolmaster who desperately wants to bring change through 'Swaraj', all have their own dreams and desires. Mehta has done a fantastic job in weaving thrill,suspense, pain, morose, melancholy and music, together pulling all the strings of your emotion and psyche to apprehend in sync to the high-end drama. Delving into the loud but passive torment of the characters, the hierarchical structure of oppression becomes evident, you observe that women are at the bottom, suffering the most from all facets.
Naseeruddin Shah as the supreme antagonist, beautifully brings out the essence of a very complex character. The lecherous, arrogant and dominating Subedaar is representative of the hollow system which feeds on the brutality it forces upon the needy, the weakest of the society. Ironically, he is the victim of the same society. His dreadful, scary exterior is the thick skin underneath which lies insecurity taking face of lunacy.
Smita Patil has the same integrity in her acting skills as of the character she portrays. Relentlessly brave, rebellious, beautiful, intelligent, empathetic and sedulous, Sonbai is the true definition of modernity. (the way I see it, want to perceive it). The character makes you feel proud of your womanhood. Smita Patil has played this character with sheer earnestness. Vivid expressions, honest approach. The village chieftain's wife(Deepti Naval) is the woman who is devoid of sound, lest her voice be heard. In a very grappling scene, the women of the village gather while banging thalis, most of the scenes in the film have deeper meaning. The revolting was just not signifying the apparent but a beginning, it was representative of the two sides in every revolution: the one getting oppressed and the oppressor. At one instance, the village men are gathered near a gramophone and listening to the magical technology, enjoying, amused and women on the other side are travelling kilometres for fetching water.
Other characters played by Om Puri(Chowkidar), Benjamin Gilani, Suresh Oberoi are worthwhile.
Mirch Masala is about beautiful women laden in beautiful ghagra cholis, living their life , and emasculated men with heavy turbans and heavy pride. It is about people who were even devoid of breathing without permission. Deep down it questions the very existence of humanity, sensitivity and courage and again "my right to choose the way I live".