The Mystic Masseur Movie Review
The movie opens in 1954 London, where Trinidad native and Oxford student Partap (Jimi Mistry) greets his mentor Ganesh (Aasif Mandvi) in England. That meeting kicks off an extended flashback where we learn of Ganesh's rise to prominence over the past decade.
After being fired from his job as a city schoolteacher, Ganesh returns to his village, where he buries his father and then attempts to write a book. Time passes. In order to support his wife (the doe-eyed Ayesha Dharker), Ganesh decides to utilize the supposedly mystical massage powers inherited from his dad. The results start a phenomenon, leading to Ganesh gaining acclaim throughout Trinidad, and even political power. He also writes books at a Danielle Steel-like rate.
I have not read the book the movie is based on, but I would hope it doesn't proceed like the movie. Ismail Merchant sluggishly directs, choosing to devote huge chunks of time on sleepy plot points (Ganesh working on the first book; passionless conflicts with his family) and glancing over more compelling material like his rise to fame and subsequent downfall. In the latter examples, Mistry's drowsy narration covers years of story and then drops us off in the midst of these important events. Much of the movie plays like a long anticlimax. No major conflicts are presented and as a result everything else suffers--performances, dialogue, etc.
The filmmakers can't even fully capitalize on the movie's small-town magic theme. Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, though not my favorites, did a great job in creating the impression that a town was revitalized by a mystical/magical presence. Merchant and company fail miserably at this. There's no sense of magic or unity of community. It's as if Merchant-Ivory think they're still doing Howard's End (though James Ivory is absent this go-round). The sense of repression in The Mystic Masseur is nearly palpable.
In another director's hands, maybe The Mystic Masseur could have been a sweet, charming movie about a man who sought fame as a writer in a land devoid of culture, but who became so much more. Here the story is told without any humor, wonder or awe. And it shows. Big time.
What color is your turban?