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Revisiting Suresh Oberoi's performance in Mirch Masala: 41st anniversary special

Celebrating the film's 41st anniversary today (13 February), we take a look at the actor's role in the Ketan Mehta classic, Mirch Masala.

Sonal Pandya

Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala (1987) is a milestone film for many in the cast and crew, but no one probably knows that better than actor Suresh Oberoi, who played Mukhiya in the film.

With a dream cast of Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval, Om Puri, Paresh Rawal, Ratna Pathak Shah and many more talented actors, Mirch Masala told the story of Sonbai, the lone woman to go up against the cruel and tyrannical subedar (tax-collector under the British Raj) and the men of the village.

The title of the film refers to the spice factory where Sonbai decides to seek refuge after slapping the subedar for his lecherous advances towards her.

Patil passed away due to complications in childbirth shortly before Mirch Masala was released. Her portrayal of Sonbai was a standout performance in an already remarkable career.

Mirch Masala also had two National School of Drama alumni — Naseeruddin Shah (as the subedar) and Om Puri (as Abu Mian, the factory watchman who protects Sonbai).

Yet, it was Suresh Oberoi, with his portrayal of the village mukhiya (village chief), who walked away with the critical recognition.

Oberoi won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor, and was awarded with the Best Supporting Actor honour by the Bengal Film Journalists' Association, one of the oldest association of film critics in the country.

Oberoi's performance as the man-in-charge seeking to maintain calm in chaos, at any cost, stood out amongst his cast-mates. His scenes with Deepti Naval, who played his wife Saraswati, represented the idea of independence bubbling up within the women of the village whose suppression is heightened by the subedar's pursuit of Sonbai.

Mirch Masala has become Mehta's best-known film worldwide with its themes of freedom and oppression that resonates even today. Sadly, Oberoi's subtle depiction of the village head is lost.