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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Medium Spicy, Review: Only medium, not spicy

Medium Spicy, Review: Only medium, not spicy

This had to be a new take on love. In its promotion, the makers of the film Medium Spicy (in Marathi language) quoted from William Shakespeare’s all-time love classic, Romeo and Juliet, “Love is heavy and light, bright and dark, hot and cold, sick and healthy, asleep and awake – it is everything except what it is!” – Act 1 Scene 1. The movie begins with a reunion party of former catering college students, where liquor flows freely, and ends with an ode to Romeo and Juliet. That’s about the Shakespeare that’s in it. As for the new take on love…not really.

The writer of the film, Irawati Karnik, names her protagonist Nissim (probably after the famous English professor of yore at a Bombay college, Nissim Ezekiel, a Jew) is a Maharashtrian man, 32 years old, and single. His mother is very keen to get him married, so is his married and pregnant sister. His father, however, is neutral in the matter. After a crush on Krishna, a classmate in college, which he could not convert to a love till it was too late, Nissim is now fully obsessed with his job as a sous chef at a prestigious Mumbai restaurant, located within a high-star hotel. When he meets Krishna at the reunion, past passions are briefly re-ignited, only to be doused peremptorily. His only other passion is sleeping it off on his weekly holiday, occasionally smoking a cigarette and, occasionally, reading a book.

At work, there is a beautiful girl called Prajakta, who works in another department, and nurses passionate feelings for Nissim. She often visits the kitchen, sometimes on a pretext, sometimes just like that, to have a word with him. He is reluctant at first, but begins to respond very slowly. He never expresses his feelings for her to her. This delay proves very costly, as Prajakta decides to get married to someone else, an ex-boxer who lives in her building. Which brings in Gowri. Gowri is the chef, the one in-charge. She is a Tamilian, living alone in Mumbai, speaking reasonably good Marathi. A no nonsense person with a commanding presence, she is called a “terrorist” by Nissim’s best friend and co-sous chef, Shubhu. Gowri is a complex character, and her bluntness, combined with her quirky sense of humour, begins to grow on Nissim. Will he be third time lucky?

From the above, it would appear that the film has a linear narrative. It doesn’t. Yes, the story progresses in real-time, but there are so many side-tracks that the straight line often turns into a tangent. One might speculate that writer, Irawati Karnik, has carried over some of her TV writing, episodic, experience into this film script, though she wrote a film called Smile Please in 2019. Some of these tangential expeditions are related to the story, some others are not, often going nowhere. Nissim’s sister Shalaka is pregnant and hell-bent on believing that it will be a boy, and that she will name him Aditya (a very common name for this generation). She is also house-hunting, with her husband, Pradyumn, while staying at her parents’ place. This entire track, though partly funny, has little or nothing to do with the focus of the story.

Then there is Shubhu, who keeps coming up with sentences in Hindi that are half funny (the Hindi could be a result of an Indore connection; at least his wife, Poonam, is from Indore, where Hindi is the main language, not Marathi). He is also an alcoholic, and his wife is very unhappy that he does not spend festive occasions with her and their two children because of work. One day, she leaves the home with her children, ostensibly to spend some days at her parental house, in Indore. Strangely enough, Nissim is dragged into this crisis. The wife is in Mumbai (though it is not specified where she is staying), not Indore, as Shubhu believes, and calls Nissim to a park, where she pours out her heart. Nissim suggests separation, a suggestion which the wife rules out, and says, “I used to be a kabaddi (a team game involving tact, guile and strength) player in school. I will not give up.” As if these two deviations were not enough, we have one more. Nissim’s paternal aunt has been ostracised from the family due to an unacceptable decision she took ages ago. She lives separately, and there is no love lost between her and Nissim’s mother. The other three members of Nissim’s family are okay with her. His father is forced to meet her surreptitiously, once in a while. A track in itself, it appears as a patch on the theme.

One must confess that director-editor Mohit Takalkar, a debutant director, has given the film a slick, bright and attractive look. There is a lot of form. On the content front, he has tried to tackle too many issues and side-tracks, besides the fulcrum point, resulting in dissipation of a lot of the effect. Although he had 140 minutes to play with, he could not succeed in integrating all the side-tracks with the central premise. The recurrent use of Hindi often appears contrived, while the English appears more natural. We would have expected him to dig deeper into the psyche of Nissim, Prajakta and Gowri. Nissim broods most of the time, Prajakta merely floats in and out of Nissim’s kitchen and life, and Gowri has only two stories worth sharing – one related to her parents and another about the deaf-mute chef Kannan, who taught her all about cooking.

As a ploy, Takalkar gets several characters to talk to the camera. While this obviously serves as a distancing tool, as employed by Bertolt Brecht (Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, 10 February 1898-14 August 1956, known professionally as Bertolt Brecht, was a German theatre practitioner and playwright, whose plays and methods have found wide acceptance in India), it seems an exercise in futility. The same content, which, in any case, is not crucial, could have been conveyed by any other cinematic means, like visuals and dialogue. While the hero is a chef, there is too much of food and beverage even outside the kitchen where he works: at his home, in restaurants, etc. Most of the central characters are not totally convincing, but they hardly ever go out of character, to the credit of Takalkar. On the couple of occasions when they do – Nissim and Gowri – they are shown in a breakthrough mode, which might justify their sudden liberation from personality traits that had bogged them down, and the two scenes are moments of expiation and liberation.

As the bearded Nissim Tipnis, Lalit Prabhakar exudes a confused, pensive persona, and that is how his character is painted. He looks the 32 years he is supposed to. On the couple of occasions when he does emerge from his shell, it is a moment of joy for the viewers. Coming into the foreground only later in the film, Sai Tamhankar as Gowri is a delight to watch and listen to. Her English, Hindi, Marathi and Tamil all flow naturally and she has always had those sharp, no nonsense looks. Parna Pethe plays Nissim’s second flame, Prajakta, and she just breezes through, literally, often in slow motion, with a pleasant countenance. One might argue that she should have been more forthcoming in her crush on Nissim, rather than blaming him for delaying his response, but that is a screenplay issue. As his pal Shubhu, Sagar Deshmukh struggles to infuse comedy, with only limited success. Nissim’s sister Shalaka is played by Neha Joshi. It is a substantial part and she performs well. Pushkaraj Chirputkar as her husband, has a cameo-sized appearance.

Old-timer Neena Kulkarni is cast as Nissim’s mother, and comes across as the typical, orthodox Marathi ‘Aai’. Her scene, where she insists that Nissim must get married soon, but definitely not to a fair-skinned foreigner, not even a dark-skinned foreigner, and that if he goes to Paris to work in a restaurant, he must contact the Marathi Association there to find him a Maharashtrian match, is one of the genuine lighter moments in the film. For the rest, she has to ham, and that poses no challenge to her. Ravindra Mankani portrays Sharad Tipnis, Nissim’s father and a retired professor. His is one of the most ill-defined roles in the film. Besides smoking and brooding, he has little else to do. A waste of talent. Ipshita Chakraborty Singh as Shubhu’s wife Poonam has just one scene, and no back-story at all. Another versatile actress, who had begun on the Bombay college stage in the early 70s, Arundhati Nag, makes her presence felt as Laxmi Tipnis, the estranged sister of Sharad, and Nissim’s paternal aunt. Out of the blue, we have Radhika Apte in one scene, fully clothed, pushy, over-bearing, cut-to-cut and down to earth, as a possible match for Nissim, who found him on a website and liked what she saw.

Medium Spicy offers some competent camerawork by Rahul Chauhan and Raghav Ramadoss. Editing by Mohit Takalkar himself leaves something to be desired, and that is surprising, since he is basically an editor. A better option would have been to avoid the side-tracks and concentrate on the main action, allowing for more footage to develop the characters of Nissim and Gowri. Conducted like a symphony orchestra in most places, the music by Saurabh Bhalerao, Hrishikesh Datar and Jasraj Joshi is an asset of the film.

Medium Spicy has a lot of Medium in it, but very little Spicy. There are no fights, dances, item numbers, swear words (a couple seem to have been deleted, to get the UA Certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification, which means Parental Guidance advised), lookalike twins, rebirths, ghosts, grand robberies, nationalistic fervour, etc. There is, though, a lot of smoking and drinking. You could watch it with minimal expectations, and even enjoy it. But unlike the two protagonists, who have a breakthrough moment each, the film is no breakthrough in the art of film-making. On the contrary, it is quite pretentious and indulgent in many parts. But it might just be a minor breakthrough for select Marathi-speaking audiences.

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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