India on a Platter: A Study of Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayed Berges's Cinematic Adaptation of The Mistress of Spices

Rajyashree Khushu-Lahiri, Shweta Rao


The paper attempts to analyse India as constructed in the cinematic adaptation of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's novel The Mistress of Spices. The Spice Bazaar becomes the site of contention between the traditional Indian orthodox value system and the seemingly open American one. The paper will not restrict its scope to enumerating differences and similarities between Divakaruni's source novel and Gurinder Chadha's film. Our aim is to study the politics of adaptations employed by the makers of the movie and its implications for the making of a new, multicultural world order. The paper will respond to the idea of India as a commodity to be consumed by the West.

India, the land of spices, has been perceived as an exotic, consumable commodity in the colonial imaginings. In the post colonial era, resistance to multi-ethnic cuisines has markedly reduced, and we witness a globalised gastronomical carnival. More and more works map the significance of food vis-à-vis identity, gender and nationality. This film is thus a timely tribute to spices, which define Indian cuisines and flavour the food in the international arena. Spices, the merchandise which initiated the colonial enterprise, are still inextricably linked with India in the era of globalization. In Chadha and Berges's cinematic dish The Mistress of Spices, spices and their Mistress symbolise India. The Mistress, Tilo, is actually one of the nourishing spices, and the spices collectively are the embodiment of the Indian ethos. Tilo's spice shop acts as a spiritual embassy dispensing aid to all its customers. The shop can also be read as an allegory of the Indian presence in the world, with Indian spices being projected as indispensable for the growth of multi-ethnic America.

The novel, and simultaneously the film The Mistress of Spices, privilege the apparently non-rational Indian discourse as opposed to the rational Western discourse. The paper also explores the possibility of a space where both the world views can coexist.


Post-Colonial; Cinema; Consumption politics

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