Mississippi Masala

For my open blog post, I am going to discuss Mississippi Masala and the Indian diaspora. Mississippi Masala by Mira Nair, reminded in many ways of The Namesake (film). Mira Nair directed both movies, and I could not help but notice the similar aesthetical techniques she uses in both films. Madhurima Chakraborty, in her article, Adaptation and The Shifting Allegiances of the Indian Diaspora (phew) says, “Like Lahiri, Nair uses rituals as key devices in representing Diaspora” (616). Chakraborty explains that rituals are a way to show nostalgia and support for the homeland and I feel, personally, both movies employ this technique for this purpose. What I noticed in the wedding scene of Mississippi Masala was how the Indian man starts to sing Jai Jagadish Hare to signify this longing for India. The viewer also sees Hari and Mina not singing along, and they are caught up in their own romances. This was a clear divide in the Indian diaspora between generations. Also, in this scene we see an Indian woman critique Mina and her parents for owning a liquor store. She quips, “Some Indians have money and whites have more money, but Indians with no money will never get Hari”. I thought this line illustrated a theme that played a much larger role in this film, than the Namesake, which is the difference between class and the racial tensions that exist between colored people.

The movie attempts to show you the hypocrisy in Indians’ own minds with the relationship between Mina and Demetrius. When Demetrius is discovered to be sleeping with Mina, he is blackballed from work, and the Indian people in their community will not speak to him. I also found it interesting how in a flashback scene to Mina’s birthday, Ida Amin, the Ugandan dictator, says on TV how the Indian people refuse to let their daughters marry Africans. This hypocrisy is an underlying current through the movie, and it provides complexity to the Indian diaspora experience. When Demetrius and Jay argue, Demetrius says, “I know you and your daughter but are only a few shades from this right here” (1:28:00). The line is important and shows the conflict between the two races. The movie tries hard to show how blacks and Indians are similar in their struggle against oppression. For example, Mina describes Indians came to Uganda because of the British to work on the railroads, and someone says at the party that it is similar to “slavery”.

The last scene of the movie when Jay remarks, “home is where the heart is” reminded me of Ashima’s speech at the end of the Namesake. Nair seems to make this connection between home and the heart. Other small things I noticed were when Tyrone asks Mina where she is from. He mistakes her for being Mexican, and then proceeds to describe his experience interacting with Hispanics. Chakraborty, in her article, explains in the Namesake, Ashoke is placed in a similar circumstance with Gogol’s teacher. What I like about Mississippi Masala is how it complicates the home and diaspora narrative by Jay and his love for Uganda. He remarks several times in the movie, “Uganda is his home”. He is a Ugandan, first and an Indian, second. So, the Indian longing for their homeland does not only have to mean where your people had originally dispersed from.Furthermore, white people take up a very small amount of screen time in the movie and are usually shown partying. I interpreted this to mean they are just fixtures and not a part of these character’s immediate experience, but I know that can be argued. All in all, there are many other aesthetics I could point to, but I will stop there. The movie focuses on the similarities and struggles between the oppressed, instead of cultural competence, and that stood out.

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