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Amnesia Save Me

The Mystic Masseur is Too Forgettable

Have you ever seen a movie and then realized that you can't remember a single detail about what you just watched? Is it momentary amnesia or too much ganja? Or is the movie so bland and ineffectual that your mind decided to forget it ever existed? The Mystic Masseur is a movie worth forgetting.

And if you're lucky, maybe it will disappear from your psyche so that valuable memory can be freed up for more important information. It comes with the pretentious stamp of being a Merchant/Ivory film; the duo consists of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant who have collaborated to created movies like The Remains of the Day, Howard's End and Jefferson in Paris. Thus, you automatically expect stuffy British accents, pasty skin, and a disdain for anyone with a repressed sexuality. Lately Merchant has been taking a swing at directing. The last movie that Merchant directed, Cotton Mary, is one of the few films of which I've actually walked out.

Although this movie is based on the book by Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul, and takes place on the island of Trinidad where there a lot of Indians with fierce accents (think Patois, not Apu on the Simpsons), it has the same slow, depressing style as all of Merchant/Ivory's other films.

Actor Aasif Mandvi plays Ganesh, an educated man (he knows how to read and write) with high ambitions. He wants to write a book; like most writers, he's making no money and starving. His new wife Leela (Ayesha Dharker) and her conniving money-hungry father Ramlogan (Om Puri) have a problem with the whole starving- artist bit. With the help of some friends, the couple devises a way to fund Ganesh's love for the written word. They market him as a mystic of new age proportions - he acts like a Shaman: he blesses people, 'cures' people, dispels advice, settles disputes, etc. Then he sells them self-help books. Ganesh becomes rich and powerful and then turns to politics. As a politician he learns some hard lessons that even the best self-help book cannot cushion.

The actors do the best with the material they have. They all sport very impressive accents, which turn out to be the most entertaining part of the whole movie. Although I've never read the book on which The Mystic Masseur is based, it has got to be more engaging than its celluloid counterpart. And, at least according to this film, it seems as if every other person in Trinidad reads, a lot. It's like the island version of New York City - one out of every two people is an aspiring author or a bookworm.

The best word to describe this movie - anti- climactic. Every time anything of any interest is about to happen - i.e. conflict - it gets diffused into a puddle of nothingness. Merchant/Ivory take each and every tidbit with any potential and kill it. Hopefully, afterwards, you won't remember a thing.

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The Mystic Masseur
Rated PG
1 hour 57 minutes

James Fox
Sakina Jaffrey
Aasif Mandvi
Om Puri
Jimi Mistry