We gave it a B+
Like the American society it depicts, this second feature from Indian director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!) comes to life most vividly around its edges. The ostensible plot engine—a budding, dangerous romance between Denzel Washington and Anglo-Indian newcomer Sarita Choudhury—navigates the webs of color and culture in the New South with trenchant ease. But the incidental characters steal this cross-cultural show. Motel owners Ranjit Chowdhry, Mohan Gokhale, and Mohan Agashe loop in and out of the action like some comic immigrant chorus, and Roc’s Charles S. Dutton radiates hearty bonhomie as Washington’s carpet-cleaning sidekick. Typically read as a South Asian Jungle Fever, Mississippi Masala (the word refers to a blend of spices) has less to do with racial distinctions than with other, messier conflicts—trust, familial ties, how (and whether) to adopt a new culture without losing the old. In Nair’s world, peripheral vision renders the clearest picture.