Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Between the Ledger Lines of the Masala

Devery Mitchell
ENG 217
P. Jha

Music is a brilliantly universal tool exploited heavily in the film Mississippi Masala. Each song placed with a purpose and with a message adds emphasis to the many themes present in the plot. Even though we were not able to view the entire film today, I couldn’t wait to express my thoughts until after out class discussion. I decided to address the use of the soundtrack in this film because the entire plot is not entirely necessary for this assessment, not to mention music is one of my deepest passions.

The music in this film is used to define culture, race, people, regions, countries, conflict, resolution, and countless other entities. What I love the most about its exploitation in this film is that any viewer can close their eyes and easily conjecture where the focus of the film is located at any point in time. From the very beginning African djembes, rattles, and chants can be heard in the time of turmoil that is represented by the deportation of Mina’s family. Choirs of African children singing in English set up and foreshadow the events of racial conflict that soon follow in the film. One of my favorite transitions is right after the family boarded their plane and all that can be seen is a map of their flight. The music shifts from upbeat African drums to a completely new and different music style. A style that not only defines a nation, but a region within that nation, and even a culture within that region. The honky blues that melds and then masks the African drums lets any listener know that they are headed straight for the deep south of North America. The family is headed to the Bayou.

Other contrasts and musical symbols appear even after the family has adjusted in this new country. The traditional Indian wedding songs sung by the mother during a wedding that is to say the least extremely Americanized, is sharply contrasted by the melodious words of a group of black kids as they rap about love on the streets. When Mina’s coveted suitor, Harry [Moneybags], takes her to a young peoples dance club called the “Leopard Lounge” the viewer begins to notice the melding of cultures in this new generation that Mina belongs to. Her heritage is Indian, her past is African, and her life is American and her ability to blend in and mingle in this “American” dance scene is displayed through the use of music in this film. She dances to the same music as the African American adolescents of her own generation. The music to which they move their feet represents neither their heritage nor their past but instead their future. This new genre is what ties them together in the only way they can be tied.

Music is used to set up the relationship between the different ethnic groups portrayed in this film. Each culture seems to have their own style, their own defining type of music but at the same time each new piece, each style and each genre is still considered music. The viewer’s ear may mark a distinction but all the melodies, beats, harmonies, and tones are processed the same way. Music is the universal bowtie that packages this film as a whole.


Jaydene said...

I thought that this was a very brilliant theme to speculate, and you have touched upon major scenes that really play a big role in the film. It seems that music is very prevalent in showcasing and almost foreshadowing certain situations. Though, I found it almost as a marker or a “scar” of identity. Music was a way to personally identify with certain characters. For example, in the beginning when the family is being deported, sitting on the bus, the soldiers (whoever they were) barge in and demand that Mina's mother gets off the bus. When they force her to open her suitcase, it was very ironic that she had a music player, and when asked to turn it on, it played the eastern Indian song. At this time when the Indian people were being deported, this type of music in Africa seemed almost inappropriate and embarrassing. From the smirk reaction on the guard’s face, it was evident that this was almost humorous to him. This was just the unnecessary justification that he needed to support her deportation. We can see that Mina’s mother comes off as being strongly rooted to her Indian heritage. It all showed with that one song and in her choice of music.
Now, within this blog, you made a very good claim in dissecting Mina’s past culture, her heritage, and current life. I feel though, that this is confused when it comes to the music. With the other characters, there are songs that seem to define them almost perfectly. Though, because of this mix in Mina’s identity, she is viewed with an array of soundtracks. I feel that the film does a good job in relating music to most of the characters, but there is no solid approach to Mina. Maybe as the movie progresses and we learn more about her, the music will make more sense? Her character seems pretty complex when it comes to identity, and it is interesting to see how the music supports this.

Q said...

First of all, that was a wonderful blog commenting on the musical stereotypes of the film. You highlighted scenes that played important roles in the plot thus far. And Jaydene, it was nice of you to bring up the additional scene of the mother and her music player. Jaydene, in response to your comment about characterizing personalities based on music, I will have to disagree with you about Mina and her music. Her music is jumbled between styles, but I think this is done well and purposefully. Mina represents a mix of cultures with no real style that exemplifies her overall, and therefore must be represented by multiple styles of music. One scene that was touched on in the blog was the dance scene at the Leapord Lounge. Mina came with an Indian man, but felt very uncomfortable with him and rather spent time with Dimitri on the dance floor. Her immediate acceptance of him was a prime example of her longing for the environment she lived in back in Africa. Mina, as our main character, needs to be fighting to find out where she truly belongs in her culture and thus must be represented as a true mixture in every facet of the film.

Katherine Bell said...

I enjoyed reading your blog and the way you put detailed examples of the movie. Remembering that the club was called the "Leapord Lounge", and remembering what music was being played between scenes was very remarkable. Music does in fact combine many cultures and identities together. I believe this statement you have wrote in the blog. All people of the past have been listening to music of other cultures. For example, when Mina's mother was taken out of the bus to be searched, the soldiers made her play her music. Even though the music said that she is all Indian at heart, she has the right to listen to other sorts of music by other cultures. I also believe what Q says about Mina jumbling in all the different ethnicities of music, but on the other hand, I do believe that there is no music portrayed in this movie that tells the viewers about her own identity.

Lucas said...

I'm just psyched anytime someone is with it enough to recognize a djembe when they hear it.
Sound (which includes music) is as important as visuals as far as where a movie can go that a book cannot (at least in my severely biased opinion). Music gives us subtle (sometimes not so subtle) emotional cues about how we are supposed to and allowed to feel about what is taking place on screen.
I can't wait for someone to market a book and CD package where when you turn to page 29 you play track 2 on the CD thereby having, in effect, a score for a book. It is an idea whose time has come.