In Ismail Merchant’s latest Ivory-less effort, The Mystic Massuer (based on V.S. Naipaul’s novel), schoolteacher Ganesh Ransumair (Assif Mandvi) pulls a Citizen Kane of sorts, morphing into a spiritual-guru-cum-politico thanks to his book-smarts. Trinidad’s Indian population may be far from Mohandas Gandhi (not to mention Satyajit Ray) but they still itch for their independence and measure success via education. Less of a snoozer than Ray’s The Home and the World, the colorful Mystic Masseur wastes its time on geography and cultural moods to ever really go anywhere with the inherent absurdity of Ganesh’s rise up the social ladder. Merchant spends a good hour on Ganesh’s schoolteacher days, fashioning life in 1940s Trinidad as a virtual sleeping pill. Quirky but never biting, Mystic Masseur only manages to sting when it makes explicit references to Mother England and her stronghold. James Fox is wonderful as the crazed Mr. Stewart, who channels his hostility for England into a crazed, spiritual manifesto that Ganesh takes to heart only to then toss aside when he runs for high office. This straightforward oddity seems to touch on everything plaguing the film’s milieu (its economy, its thoughts on sexuality, the religion) but putters to a close without ever feasting on the irony and grand opera of a master Massuer’s fall from grace.
- Ismail Merchant
- Caryl Phillips
- Assif Mandvi, Om Puri, Jimi Mistry, Ayesha Dharker, Zohra Segal, James Fox, Rez Kempton, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sakina Jaffrey
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