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Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

The Mystic Masseur



Ismail Merchant--the Indian half of the Merchant-Ivory team--directed this low-key but wisely observant adaptation of V.S. Naipaul's first novel, about a village masseur named Ganesh whose spiritual guidebooks and reputation as a healer bring him fame and fortune during the 1950s. His rise as a charismatic leader in the Indian community of Trinidad, his championing of his people in the British-controlled legislature, and his ultimate retreat from worldly affairs are narrated by Partap, an Indian educated at Oxford whose childhood depression has been "cured" by Ganesh and who's since become one of his advisers. Detached yet compassionate, this perspective affords Merchant and screenwriter Caryl Phillips a wry, nonjudgmental look at the blind faith and materialistic ambitions permeating the superstitious Indian subculture, though the tone becomes more caustic as the hypocrisy and corruption of colonial politics strip Ganesh of his moral authority. The cast is uniformly excellent, including Aasif Mandvi as Ganesh, Om Puri as his cunning father-in-law, and James Fox as a British recluse who mistakes mysticism for inaction. 117 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Three Penny.

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