Cotton Mary

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  • R
  • 1999
  • 2 hr 4 min
  • 5.2  (542)
  • 52

Cotton Mary is a gripping drama that examines the complex relationships between colonizers and the colonized in post-World War II India. Released in 1999, the movie is directed by Ismail Merchant and stars Greta Scacchi as the title character, alongside Madhur Jaffrey and James Wilby. The story is set in 1954, and revolves around the lives of English nurse Lily Macintosh (played by Scacchi), her Anglo-Indian assistant Rosie (Neena Gupta), and the Indian households they serve. Lily is in charge of a maternity clinic in a remote part of South India, where she assists in the birth of Indian babies while attempting to provide Western-style medical care to the local populace.

Enter Mary, a newly arrived Anglo-Indian who claims to be a distant relative of Rosie's. Mary is offered a job as Lily's assistant and quickly proves to be a competent and efficient worker. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Mary has darker motives and a secret agenda.

As Mary ingratiates herself into Lily's household, she becomes increasingly possessive and controlling of the Englishwoman's patients and staff. She manipulates and exerts control over the Indian women in particular, believing that she can bring them into the modern world by imposing her own values and beliefs.

Later, Mary also goes to great lengths to secure a baby for Lily's childless employer, Mrs. Smythe-Vane (played by Jaffrey). She begins to see herself as the savior of the mixed-race children in the hospital and undertakes all kinds of ruthless and unethical measures to improve their lives.

Through this character, the movie explores themes of racial identity, colonialism, and power dynamics. Mary is a conflicted figure - on the one hand, she identifies with her Indian heritage and resents her Anglo-Indian ancestry. On the other hand, she yearns for acceptance by the English characters and is willing to betray her own people to achieve it.

As the plot unfolds, Mary's machinations become increasingly desperate and dangerous, and she eventually becomes a threat to everyone around her. This leads to a gripping finale in which the true extent of Mary's treachery is revealed.

Cotton Mary is a beautifully filmed drama that highlights the unique conditions of India in the post-colonial era. The movie sheds light on the complex cultural tensions that continue to exist between the colonizers and the colonized even after India's independence.

Greta Scacchi delivers an outstanding performance as the clueless English nurse who gradually realizes the extent of Mary's manipulation. Madhur Jaffrey is also superb as the privileged Englishwoman who is ultimately brought down by her own sense of entitlement.

The movie received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its thought-provoking themes and nuanced characterizations, while others felt that it was overly melodramatic and contrived. However, despite its flaws, Cotton Mary remains a powerful and deeply affecting examination of Indian identity and the legacy of colonialism.

In conclusion, Cotton Mary is a must-watch for fans of bold, atmospheric dramas that explore the complexities of identity, race, and power. The film's evocative cinematography, nuanced performances, and intricate plot make it an engrossing and thought-provoking exploration of India's post-colonial period.

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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 4 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    5.2  (542)
  • Metascore