About The Story
One of the key and unique elements to the Mistress of Spices, is the use of Magical Realism, a literary technique which explores how different cultures perceive reality.
Magical realism is found within in a variety of literature, and as literary professor Jane Anderson Jones explains "What is absolutely 'real' to one culture, is 'magical' to the other culture. From a 'Western' viewpoint, the other culture's reality is often described as superstition, witchcraft or nonsense; from another cultures viewpoint (Native American, Eastern, African etc) western logic and science are viewed as "magic" or disconnected from the spiritual world. The intersect of these different world views is Magical Realism."
In The Mistress of Spices the intersect occurs between the traditions of India and the modernity of America.
From the very outset of the film, it is clear that Tilo lives strictly by the rules of the spices.
Never think about your own desires, only use the spices to help others.
To begin with Tilo keeps within the restrictions of these rules and the literal boundaries of the shop. She soon realises however, that it is not going to be easy to adhere to these traditions within the environment of modern America where free will is the more dominant force. When Doug walks into her store and awakens a passion within her, the chilli's become aggravated and warn her against the dangers of abandoning her traditions. When she steps outside the store to explore the world of San Francisco and her blossoming desires for Doug, the spices are furious, they stop working as they should and all sense of order is lost. Tilo is torn between these conflicting desires and eventually submits herself back into the burning chilli's asking the spices to decide her fate. By the end however, Tilo manages to find a balance, she holds on the backbone of her traditions and respect for her spices whilst also embracing her personal desires for love and human affection. She truly can, have it all.
Do not touch anyone else and
Do not leave the store.
About The Production
From the team behind Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice comes The Mistress of Spices. Three continents, a directorial debut, the Queen of Bollywood, a Hollywood star and a large sprinkling of magical spices, all come together to create this mystical tale of identity, tradition and forbidden desire.
The Mistress of Spices began its life as a novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni back in 1997. When Director Paul Mayeda Berges and his writing partner Gurinder Chadha first read the novel they both instantly fell in love with the story and knew that it would translate beautifully to the big screen. They met with Chitra and began working on turning it into a screenplay. As Paul Mayeda Berges explains he saw within the novel a fresh twist on an age old theme "culturally it was all about the things we're interested in, the way people mix and how much smaller the world is these days and how you start a new life when you emigrate somewhere, but, it had this layer of magical realism which I hadn't seen done in a film like this before." Several years later, with the help of Producing partner Deepak Nayar, The Mistress of Spices was ready to go into production.
A cold February day in a small studio in the middle of the Isle of Man may not seem like the obvious choice of location for a film set in a sunny Californian spice shop. The Isle of Man Film commission however, fell in love with the script and put up a significant portion of the Film's budget. Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott were in place as the leads and along side a strong supporting cast including Nitin Ganatra (Bride & Prejudice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Adewele Akkinuoye-Agbaje (The Bourne Identity and Get Rich or Die Tryin) and Anupam Kher (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice and ER). And so, on the 14th February 2005, Tilo's Spice Bazaar opened for business and principal photography on the Mistress of Spices began in earnest.
The majority of the Film is in set within the warm and secure environment of the shop where Tilo happily administers her spices in order to help her customers with their varying ailments and dilemmas. Production Designer Amanda McArthur had the daunting task of designing and constructing the spice shop from scratch. She didn't want the shop to have a uniform and sterile feel to it and instead crammed it full of a variety spices, objects and fabrics that gave off a rich, sensual mix of colours and textures. Amanda McArthur explains her vision, " I wanted the Spice shop to have a timeless quality…we used dark woods for the shelves and table tops so as to create the feeling almost like a Caravaggio painting where all the backgrounds are black and then all the spices are the rich colours in the foreground."
After two weeks out on the Isle of man, the production moved to London to shoot in various locations around the capitol and thankfully the snow held off long enough to make London look believable as Oakland, California. The multicultural elements of the story were in fact reflected in the crew itself. Japanese/American first time Director, Paul Berges, chose Indian Cinematographer (and Director in his own right), Santosh Sivan and his Indian camera crew, to "add a richness to the film's visual style and look". Mexican born Editor, Alex Rodriguez, Antipodean Production Designer Amanda McArthur and American Composer Craig Pruess, all worked to bring to life the ideas of identity and race that are so prevalent in the story. Indian born Producer Deepak Nayar explains "The crew, just like the Spices, complimented one another to create this magical film."
Although this was Paul Berges' directorial debut, he was more then familiar with life on set as he had worked closely with his writing partner and wife, Gurinder Chadha on films such as What's Cooking, Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice. This time however, it was Gurinder who was taking more of a back seat in proceedings by filling the role of Consulting Director. Where Gurinder's films have blended traditional comedy drama with her unique ethnic influence, Paul has a developed a quieter sense of romantic, sensual storytelling. It was in fact on Gurinder's film Bride & Prejudice, that Paul first spotted the talents of Aishwarya Rai and knew that she would slip perfectly into the role of Tilo, the Mistress. This former Miss World, and Queen of Bollywood transformed her naturally glamourous look for the part. She simplified her hair and make-up, dressed in traditional Indian saris and brought a quiet, demure tone to the role. Choosing the part of Doug wasn't quite so simple, they met with countless actors from both sides of the Atlantic, but eventually settled on the all American Hollywood actor, Dylan McDermott. The chemistry on set between Dylan and Aishwarya was instant. They both had a calm, maturity to their acting skills and developed the love story of Doug and Tilo in a very controlled and sensitive manner. Aishwarya Rai describes how smooth their working relationship was "from the very first scene we did together he was instantly Doug and I was instantly Tilo." Dylan McDermott goes onto say "we work well together together, we have a good relationship and it's a little bit dangerous, which is always a good thing!"
By the middle of March, filming had moved to yet another location, this time Oakland California, itself. A historic section of downtown Oakland was transformed and the Legogo Bargain store became Tilo's Spice Bazaar. Chinatown in San Francisco, the Japanese Tea Gardens and the Golden Gate Bridge all became settings for the blossoming love story. And as former head of the San Francisco International Asian American film festival, Director Paul Berges felt right at home in the beautiful Bay area. Not content with filming in two continents however, Paul Berges then lead his crew to their final destination, India. A small second unit travelled to Kerala in the south of India where 93 year old, veteran Indian actress Zohra Segal joined them for the role as First Mother. And so it was here in India that the last few days of filming took place. Surrounded by beautiful beaches, a tropical climate and lush vegetation Paul Berges and his crew filmed their final scenes. Moreover, it was rather fitting that the journey of filming should end there in Kerala because hiding amongst that lush vegetation were the magical spices themselves happily growing in their natural habitat just waiting to be picked by their Mistress.
Paul Mayeda Berges - Director/Writer
THE MISTRESS OF SPICES is Paul's feature directorial debut. It is the fourth film he has co-written with his partner Gurinder Chadha.
Their first film, WHAT'S COOKING? (2000), was the Opening Night Film of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. The film won numerous international awards and was Nominated for a Humanitas Prize and Best British Screenplay at the London Film Critics' Circle Awards. It also won Best British Director for Chadha in the London Critics' Awards.
Their second film, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2002), is the highest grossing British-financed, British-distributed film ever in the UK box-office. The film topped the box-office in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and South Africa, and won audience awards at the Toronto, Locarno and Syndey film festivals. It received a Golden
Globe Nomination for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), a BAFTA Nomination for Best British Film, a European Film Academy Nomination for Best Film, and a Writers Guild of America Nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Their third film, BRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2004), was the first film ever to open at Number One in the UK and India on the same day.
Paul is the former Director of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. He has made documentaries on the Japanese American community and taught film production to high school students.
He was born in Los Angeles and studied film at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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