The Mystic Masseur


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It is a shock to realise that Ismail Merchant's comedy-drama is based on a novel by VS Naipaul, because there seems little point to it.

A failed teacher in Trinidad moves to the country to become a writer. He settles in his late father's village, marries a local girl who can't have children. He works as a masseur, because that's what his dad did, and calls himself a mystic.

His philosophical and spiritual tracts are printed and bound into volumes. Soon he is selling them like ripe bananas amongst the Hindu population and begins to see himself as a leader of men. He goes into politics, wins a seat and leaves his rural base for the city, where he is looked on as a country bumpkin and patronised by the colonial rulers.

As a portrait of simple Indian folk in the Forties on a Caribbean island, it has its place, but the character of Ganesh and the performance of Asasif Mandvi do not live up to expectation. Om Puri, as his father-in-law, is a delight by comparison and James Fox, as a loopy Englishman, who has gone native, adds the blessing of eccentricity, except he's not around enough.

There is a message here, concerning success, power and humiliation, but it's one that you know already. Also, writers' wives get a rotten deal. But you knew that, too.

The only surprise is the lack of black faces. There are dark Asian faces everywhere, with saris and pyjamas and little white hats, but no African colour until Ganesh ventures into Government House in Trinidad, where he has to learn how to behave.

Reviewed on: 27 Mar 2002
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A failed teacher in Trinidad in the Forties moves to the country, writes books and enters politics
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Director: Ismail Merchant

Writer: Caryl Phillips, based on the novel by VS Naipaul

Starring: Aasif Mandvi, Om Puri, Ayesua Dharker, Zohra Sehgal, James Fox, Jimi Mistry, Sanjeev Bhaskar

Year: 2001

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: India


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