Mirch (“Chili Pepper”) stands out from other Bollywood fare because of its subject matter: women’s sexuality. It’s a topic that makes some people skittish, yet Mirch addresses it with a sense of humor. However, the otherwise amusing movie fails to reach its full potential.
The movie is actually a series of four short stories — two set in the ancient past, two set in modern times — held together by a framing device. A rookie screenwriter, Maanav (Arunoday Singh), can’t find anyone willing to buy his original screenplay because the subject matter is deemed too dark and not “sexy” enough. So Maanav comes up with another plan: turn four stories from the ancient Panchatantra into a film.
The four stories all feature sexually liberated women who use their wits to get the better of their jealous, promiscuous spouses. Maanav’s girlfriend, a movie editor named Ruchi (Shahana Goswami), convinces her producer boss Nitin (Sushant Singh) to listen to Maanav’s pitch, even though it appears Nitin has his own designs on Ruchi.
The four stories unfold as Maanav’s narration gives way to cinematic depiction, starting with the two historical vignettes. First is the story of a frisky wife (Raima Sen) whose manual laborer husband becomes suspicious of her eagerness to hop in the sack with him.
Second is a story of a young bride (Konkona Sen Sharma) married to an impotent old king. The bride is desperate to lose her virginity, and she chooses a young courtier (also played by Arunoday Singh, who appears in two other stories as well) to do the deed. However, the courtier will only consent if the bride agrees to do it in front of her husband.
The characters in the “real life” storyline acknowledge a need for stories set in modern times, shifting the time period forward for the final two stories. Sen returns in the third story as another devoted wife whose husband (Shreyas Talpade) tests her fidelity. Sharma likewise returns for the fourth vignette, as a wife who catches her husband (Boman Irani) trying to cheat on her.
All of the stories start with straightforward premises but end with a twist: either the wife turns the tables on her husband, or she was hiding a secret all along. In every case, the stories acknowledge the fact that women have their own desires apart from fulfilling their husbands needs. Sen and Sharma carry the movie, playing their characters as provocative rather than overtly sexual.
While the vignettes have their charms, the framing device is uneven. The interludes between the mini-movies seem to be driving toward a love triangle finale that would force Ruchi to choose between Maanav and Nitin. A new character is introduced at the last minute, seemingly invalidating the implication that Nitin was ever interested in Ruchi.
Mirch also makes the unfortunate mistake of putting a character in blackface. When the husband in the third story dons a disguise in order to seduce his wife, he covers his skin in dark makeup. It’s a crude attempt at humor that’s loaded with racist undertones. A wig and a fake mustache would have been sufficient.