Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Deepti Naval, Suresh Oberoi,
Deena Pathak, Supriya Pathak, Mohan Gokhle
Producer - NFDC
Director – Ketan Mehta
Music – Rajat Dholakia
Camera – Jehangir Chaudhary
Story - Chunnilal Madiya
SONBAI is something of a legend in Saurashtra. She was the one,
who had dared to defy the village subedar and lived to tell
the tale. Ketan Mahta, in Mirch Masala transforms the legend
into potent cinema. It’s not just the story of one woman,
but of the social and moral upheaval that takes place in a village
resigned to tyranny. Set in the British era, this village is
ruled by a cruel and clownish subear (It looks like only Naseeruddin
Shah could have played the role. He’s simply superb).
He sets his heart on Sonbai (Smita Patil) who escapes from his
clutches, into a chilli factory, where the local women work.
The old Muslim watchman (Om Puri) of the factory
barricades the woman behind the factory gates and challenges
the subedar to break the gates if he wants to get Sonbai.
The villagers tremble under his wrath.
The mukhi (Suresh Oberoi) and the men of the village are willing
to strike bargain with the subedar, they will give him Sonbai,
if he will spare the village.
The mukhi’s wife (Deepti Naval giving
a quietly dignified performance), the only progressive minded
woman in the village tries to gather together a weak army of
thali-beating women but it doesn’t work.
It is the self-respect of an entire village
against a man’s insane demand. The women in the factory
curse and abuse Sonbai for bringing trouble. “You won’t
find a lover like him,” says a woman (Ratna Pathak Shah
in an impressive cameo) who has been to the subedar’s
tent in return for a small gift.
In the midst of the storm, Sonbai stands
tall, supported only by the old chowkidaar.