One of Mira Nair’s first narrative features brings together an extraordinary cultural melting pot, from India via Uganda to Mississippi. It’s a love story between Denzel Washington’s carpet cleaner Demetrius and young Mina (Sarita Choudhury), who lives and works in a motel with her family. Roshan Seth plays Mina’s father Jay, who spends the film determined to reclaim his land and home in Uganda, or at least be compensated for it.
While it does have some political and social commentary, of course, it also has a vibrant and erotic atmosphere. Mina and Demetrius’ slow walk along the bayou where they share an electric first kiss, or their stroll along the beach in Biloxi before a sensual love scene are languid, lustful, and hazily dreamy. Washington’s physicality — from his determined walks, to a clench of the mouth, to an adjustment of his cap — makes Demetrius a real, lived-in character.
Mina and Demetrius are a product of their family, friends, and traditions, and both want to break free and have a new life with one another. Demetrius takes Mina home for a cook-out, there’s an Indian wedding, a range of dance styles are shown, and the flashbacks to Uganda provide further layers to the complex cultural context. The ending, where Jay finally returns to Uganda and realizes that it’s not really home anymore, is especially moving. It’s so good to see Washington in a rare romantic role, and one from a woman’s perspective. “Mississippi Masala” is an absolute stand-out in his career.
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