There was an era in Indian cinema when films were segregated as commercial and parallel films. With Arthouse Days, we revisit those ‘parallel films’ that were overshadowed by the glamorous outings.
Ketan Mehta directorial Mirch Masala holds an important place in the history of Indian cinema. Those who haven’t seen the film must have surely heard of Smita Patil’s performance and those who have seen it know that Mirch Masala is an important part of Indian cinema’s rich heritage for the issues that it highlighted.
Mirch Masala is set in a Rajasthani village during the pre-independence era. Here, men run the society and women are treated as second class citizens. Naseeruddin Shah plays the brutal Subedar who collects taxes and the villagers treat him like a king. Every word out of his mouth is a command that has to be abided.
When Shah introduces villagers to his gramophone, they are stupefied. But when an orderly accidentally drops the record that the Subedar asked for, he is beaten mercilessly. When Subedar spots Sonbai, played by Smita Patil, he has to have her but she won’t give up her pride at the command of a rich upper-class man.
In a bold move, she even slaps the Subedar when he tries to attack her. When the matter escalates, the panchayat decides that Sonbai should be handed over to the maniac. Some women too believe that Sonbai should comply. In a weak moment, when she is about to give up, Om Puri’s Abu Miyan stops her and stands up for her pride even if the matter was to end in his death.
Mirch Masala talks about the social problems that have plagued our society since time immemorial. Treatment of women in a patriarchal set-up, the vast class difference, the irrational taxes, everything here represents the regressive society that we once lived in.
While Sonbai’s strength is displayed in her stance, the other women here are not all cut out from the same cloth. Deepti Naval’s Saraswati represents another voice of change. She bans her husband (Suresh Oberoi) from entering their house until he starts treating it like a home. She is courageous enough to send her daughter to school, even though it’s not socially acceptable. When the Sonbai matter erupts, Saraswati starts a protest in the way she can.
The film also stars Dina Pathak, Mohan Gokhale, Paresh Rawal, Ratna Pathak, Supriya Pathak and all their performances are noteworthy.
Back in the 1980s, Mirch Masala was seen as a bold attempt towards highlighting woman power. Mirch Masala talks about the injustice of society, especially against women, and drives that point home by showcasing the defeat of a powerful man.
At the time, the film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and deservedly so.
Mirch Masala is streaming on Hotstar.