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Mississippi Masala

Thanks to crowd-pleasers like The Guru and Bend It Like Beckham — which combine the dramatic potential of generational and cultural conflict with the bright colors, broad humor, and showy style that have long characterized the best of Bollywood — movies that follow Indian characters as they come face to face with modern "Anglo" sensibilities are poised to become the next big crossover phenomenon in U.S. cinema. One filmmaker who seems to have anticipated that trend is Mira Nair; her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding was a big hit in art-house theaters, but it was way back in the '80s and '90s that she first tested the Anglo-Indian waters with films like Mississippi Masala. The winning romantic dramedy tells the story of Mina (Sarita Choudhury), a feisty Ugandan-born Indian girl who flees to the United States (by way of England) with her family after dictator Idi Amin forces all "Asians" to leave his country. Once rich and well-respected in Uganda, Mina and her parents live in two small rooms in a Greenwood, Miss., hotel run by cousins and work hard to get by. But they still have their culture and their pride, both of which take a beating when Mina unexpectedly falls in love with Demetrius (Denzel Washington), a sweet, self-made businessman who happens to be black. And the duo's interracial romance causes just as many problems (if not more) for Demetrius and his family; as Demetrius's barber tells him, black people are just as eager to see successful people fail as anyone else. The film's message — that racial prejudices are hardly limited to white people — isn't hard to miss, but Nair tells Mina and Demetrius's story so thoughtfully and affectionately that it doesn't matter. Particularly poignant is the subplot that focuses on Mina's father, Jay (Roshan Seth). A smart, idealistic lawyer who never has been able to get over the fact that his best friend in Uganda, Okelo (Konga Mbandu), told him that "Africa is for Africans — black Africans," Jay finds that his own prejudices are just as strong when his daughter's future is in jeopardy; Seth gives a beautifully nuanced performance as a man coming to terms with his own failings. Columbia TriStar's DVD does well by the film; the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is strong, and the Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is clear (English and Spanish subtitles are also available). The only extras are trailers for other Columbia films on DVD, but when a movie stands on its own as well as this one, you don't need many bells and whistles to enjoy it. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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