Synopsis by Mark Deming
Ismail Merchant, best known as a producer for his work with director James Ivory (including Howards End and A Room With a View), takes possession of the director's chair in this drama. In 1954, seven years after India has gained independence from Great Britain, many Indians still feel like second-class citizens in their own country, as the nation's sovereignty has not immediately erased the perception that the British are superior to the Indian-born natives. Such a woman is Cotton Mary (Madhur Jaffrey), who works as a nurse for Lily Macintosh (Greta Scacchi), the wife of a BBC correspondent. Mary claims she's the daughter of a British regiment officer (although she has no firm evidence), and she sees herself as more British than Indian. While she takes offense at racist comments, she often states her belief that most of her people are unclean and dishonest, and her personal philosophy is informed by Christianity as much as the Hindu teachings with which she was raised. When Lily gives birth prematurely, Mary has to find a wet nurse for the child, and she uses this to win greater trust and confidence from Lily; in time, Mary persuades Lily to fire Abraham (Prayag Raaj), the household's loyal but proudly Indian cook, while she hides the fact that her sister Blossom (Neena Gupta) is nursing Lily's child. When not acting, Madhur Jaffrey is an acclaimed Indian chef and author, who has written a series of books on Indian cuisine; her daughter, Sakina Jaffrey, also appears in the film.
class-consciousness, deception, desire, doctor/nurse, identity, obsession, philosophy