Mira Jacob on Mississippi Masala and Discovering Herself on Screen
This Week on the Open Form Podcast
Welcome to Open Form, a weekly film podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie they love, a movie they hate, a movie they hate to love. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A brand-new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed by them bringing it up.
In this episode of Open Form, Mychal talks to Mira Jacob (Good Talk) about the 1991 film Mississippi Masala, directed by Mira Nair and starring Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, and Roshan Seth.
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From the episode:
Mira Jacob: Every single one of my South Asian friends had to call each other within, I would say, two weeks of [the film] coming out and say, Did you know there’s this movie and this person is in it? [Mississippi Masala] was just an amazing thing after … growing up in America, obviously, Bollywood has a huge, huge film output. But I didn’t grow up in India but in New Mexico. We didn’t get a lot of Bollywood movies.
So after just never seeing anything, until I saw this movie, I thought my role in life was to watch white people in movies and TV. I thought that if there was a part in a movie for me, it was the person that watched the movies of white people with an occasional black character … and then suddenly it just sort of broke my brain that we could be on screen.
Mychal Denzel Smith: That is such a powerful statement, that your feeling was not even a secondary or tertiary character in the story of white people. But before this film, it’s just watching white people, watching them have adventures, watching them have romance, watching them go through the heartbreak of life. And then until this film… I think you’ve broken my brain. Like, wow, what a feeling. I mean, that’s.
Mira Jacob: We talk about we talk about this, right? We talk about that representation matters. But but really, when you think of how little we had, the reason that it matters is, is because you don’t even imagine that you could have an interior life that matters to anyone. And if it doesn’t matter to anyone, why would it matter to you? It’s like you have no agency until you can see and imagine yourself. And this was the first time it had happened for me.
Mira Jacob is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. Her recent work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Vogue, Glamour, Tin House, Electric Literature, and Literary Hub. She lives in Brooklyn.