Mississippi Masala [1991]

Mira Nair, the Indian director, scored an international art-house hit with her feature debut, Salaam Bombay!, a tale of life in the streets of seething urban India. Her next film was a surprising turnabout: Mississippi Masala is a cultural study and a love story set in the rural American south. The love story comes courtesy of Denzel Washington, as a rug cleaner, and Sarita Choudhury (from Nair's Kama Sutra), as the daughter of Indian immigrants running a small-time motel; both give fresh, charming performances. But Nair is equally interested in capturing the feelings of an exile's life, and Roshan Seth, the fine actor who played Nehru in Gandhi, superbly catches the hope and sorrow of dislocation. Although the issues are serious, Nair maintains a breezy, naturalistic approach, and the various ingredients of this masala blend into a rich, flavorful stew. --Robert Horton

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