Mississippi Masala

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The vibrant cultures of India, Uganda, and the American South come together in Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala, a luminous look at the complexities of love in the modern melting pot. Years after her Indian family was forced to flee their home in Uganda by the dictatorship of Idi Amin, twentysomething Mina (Sarita Choudhury) spends her days cleaning rooms in an Indian-run motel in Mississippi. When she falls for the charming Black carpet cleaner Demetrius (Denzel Washington), their passionate romance challenges the prejudices of both of their families and exposes the rifts between the region’s Indian and African American communities. Tackling thorny issues of racism, colorism, culture clash, and displacement with bighearted humor and keen insight, Nair serves up a sweet, sexy, and deeply satisfying celebration of love’s power.

Picture 9/10

Mira Nair’s 1990 film Mississippi Masala has received an all-new 4K restoration that is presented here through Criterion's new Blu-ray edition. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz encode.

The film comes out looking spectacular through this new presentation, delivering a sharp, mostly clean image with a stunning amount of detail. If it falls a bit short in one area it’s how it renders the rather fine grain in a handful of darker sequences, like the club sequence early one, and some of the darker shots in Uganda; the grain ends up coming off a little noisy. This ends up being a rather odd artifact because, outside of those scenes, the grain is rendered nicely, Criterion’s encode being another solid one as of late. At its strongest the digital presentation pushes out the details, allowing every rock or every blade of grass to pop out perfectly. There's also a really nice film texture to the image.

The film has a very bold colour palette and the colours do come out look nice, but they do end up pushing towards green. This is an aspect Ed Lachman discusses in an included interview, the film's director of photography explaining the look is intended and how a Fujifilm stock known for having a green bias was chosen for the film. He admits that while working with the digital intermediate he did enhance the colours to what he wanted, but if a before-and-after shown during his interview is to be believed it doesn’t make the film look all that different from before, it just ends up with a little more of a vibrant look now. Overall, I thought it was suiting, making the setting feel appropriately hotter. It’s also not a blanket application, a couple of Ugandan sequences seeming to push blues more, even oranges, and there is a scene that leans more teal, suggesting fluorescents. The green-yellow hue can also be heavier in some scenes and lighter in others. Saturation levels are also rather good and deliver a vividness that wasn't there before, with the yellows popping nicely. Blues don’t appear to have been impacted all that much, either, still looking blue instead of a cyan, and black levels are still rich and inky without crushing out shadow detail. 

The film ends up having a very sharp look now, looking as though it really could have been filmed yesterday, and the restoration work appears to have cleaned up every scratch and bit of dirt. It’s an incredible shame that Criterion didn’t see it fit to release on UHD because I’m sure it would have looked stunning.

Audio 8/10

The film’s 2-channel DTS-HD MA surround presentation is a surprisingly active one, thanks primarily to the film’s use of music. The film’s score and its soundtrack spreads nicely between the front speakers and to the rears with a superb level of range between the highs and lows. Dialogue is crisp and clear, easy to hear, and damage is not an issue. It sounds excellent.

Extras 8/10

I was somewhat shocked to see the film hasn’t received any sort of special edition prior to this, Sony’s previous DVD being a barebones release. Criterion corrects that with their new edition, not necessarily packing the disc but still offering up some great content, starting things off with a new audio commentary featuring director Mira Nair. The wide-ranging commentary touches on every aspect of the film, the director covering the development of the film, the level of research that went into it—from the expulsion of Asians from Uganda to Mississippi visits in order to gain firsthand experience of the Indian and black communities there—what she was trying to say with it, what she calls the “seed” of the film, and the difficulties in getting financing, one issue being the lack of a white actor in a major role. Throughout the track she also offers some context to some of the cultural elements represented within the film and also talks about the film’s music (a mix of Indian, African, and Blues), and her desire to capture the “knee-weakening” aspect around falling in love on film. Impressively, Nair keeps the track going, moving naturally from one topic to another and fully covering each subject. There’s a chance she planned the track or even scripted it out beforehand because it feels so well organized and hits just about every point one could want, but it never feels that way, coming loose and going with the flow of the film. She sprinkles in a good amount of humour, too; I especially like how she describes the many instances of being rejected, whether it be around financing or approaching actors for roles, as “having a good laugh” with the individual and then being shown the door.

Expanding on the track are a couple of new interviews including one with screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala and another with actor Sarita Choudhury, the latter conducted by film critic Devika Girish. Taraporevala’s 14-minute contribution proves especially interesting as she gets a little more into the evolution of the script and the trips she took to Mississippi with Nair. Nair touches on this but I wasn’t too surprised to learn here that the original script focused more on the parents and the move from Uganda, Taraporevala feeling the emotional center of the film should be placed on Choudhury’s character and her relationship with Denzel Washington’s. I also rather enjoyed her recounts of visiting the Indian community in Mississippi and the Indian owned hotels.

Choudhury’s 25-minute discussion first starts out with her casting, what it was like working with Nair, and her experience around working in Mississippi. I was most charmed by her accounts of the excitement in the Indian community when it came out that Indian star Sharmila Tagore was there shooting the film, bringing many from the community around in the hopes of seeing her.

Director of photography Ed Lachman and production designer/photographer (and Nair’s former husband) Mitch Epstein also talk about their contributions to the film. Epstein goes over his research and capturing the locations and their history in the film, while Lachman goes over some of the technical details in the film’s photography, down to the film stock and lighting, explaining his choices. The interviews respectively run 16 and 18-minutes.

I was disappointed by the lack of any academic material on the disc but an essay by Bilal Qureshi makes up for that a little bit. The booklet also includes excerpts from Nair’s journal from the time, the entries cited focusing on her travels and research that would eventually play into the film, some story ideas even noted. Her travels went from Mumbai to Uganda to Mississippi and more, and there are quotes from some people she met along the way, some of which, as she warns in her introduction, are racist in nature.

 All around, Criterion has put together a rather satisfying edition for the film, comprehensively delving into the film’s production and its subject matter.


Sporting a sharp new digital presentation the film receives the lovingly assembled special edition it has always deserved.

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Directed by: Mira Nair
Year: 1991
Time: 117 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1127
Licensor: Janus Films
Release Date: May 24 2022
MSRP: $39.95
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 2.0 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 New audio commentary featuring Mira Nair   New conversation between actor Sarita Choudhury and film critic Devika Girish   New interviews with director of photography Ed Lachman, screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, and production designer and photographer Mitch Epstein   An essay by critic Bilal Qureshi and excerpts from Mira Nair’s production journal