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The Mystic Masseur

By Adele Marley | Posted

The first screen adaptation of a novel by Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, The Mystic Masseur is the tale of a writer (Aasif Mandvi) living in an Indian community in Trinidad during the 1950s who becomes a celebrated masseuse/spiritual healer, only to be undone by British colonialism when he enters the political arena. The problem with this Merchant/Ivory production is that the story isn't conducive to big-screen exposition. Caryl Phillips' script is compartmentalized into a series of quaint anecdotes: Ganesh (Mandvi) tricks his miserly and self-aggrandizing father-in-law into ponying up for his wedding ; Ganesh's spirited bride, Leela (Ayesha Dharker), who feels she takes a back seat to her husband's literary aspirations, leaves him, but then returns when his first book is published; Ganesh cures the son of his former landlord of depression during a particularly theatrical healing session, which provides the impetus for Ganesh's entry into fame and fortune. The Mystic Masseur has some interesting things to say about the impact of spirituality and politics in the lives of ordinary people, but even viewers who would otherwise welcome such insight--or be captivated by the film's warm characterizations and gentle wit, and meandering pace--will probably be bored silly by the meandering narrative.

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