Compared with the work of partner James Ivory, Ismail Merchant’s helming efforts (which include 1996’s The Proprietor and 1999’s Cotton Mary) have been lacklustre affairs, riven with fruity overacting and narrative inconsistencies. So it proves with his fourth outing as director, a good-looking but dull adaptation of the VS Naipaul novel about an Indian faith healer who rises to political prominence in the colonial outpost of Trinidad.
After the initial curiosity of exploring the colony’s immigrant Indian community wears off, this increasingly unlikely story never captures the imagination, or even sparks mild interest. This is largely because it’s stultifyingly faithful to its source material – but it doesn’t help to have James Fox camping it up as a down-and-out toff.
On the plus side, East Is East’s Om Puri has better luck as the irrepressible chancer who clings to the coat-tails of nobody-turned-guru Ganesh (Aasif Mandvi). But the end result will still leave you wishing Merchant would stick to producing.