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Bland Porridge

Monday, October 09, 2017

Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble and others
Rating: * * 1/2

Think of films with food at their centre, and the rich sensuousness of the visuals in films like Eat Drink Man Woman and Babette’s Feast come to mind. Raja Krishna Menon’s Chef, official remake of Jon Favreau’s film of the same name, could have been spicy like clever Indian versions of food from any country (like Gobhi Manchurian or Chhole Burger), but chooses instead to be a bland khichdi.

Chandni Chowk boy, Roshan Kalra runs away from home at fifteen, because his father won’t let him learn cooking. Eventually, he works himself up the ladder to become a Chef in a famous Indian Restaurant in New York. On the way though this is not elaborated upon much, he marries a dancer Radha (Padmapriya Janakiraman lovely); they have a child and get divorced. Roshan is the Skype once-a-week kind of dad to Armaan (Svar Kamble, sweet but badly in need of a hair cut).

When he hits a patron who criticizes his food, Roshan is sacked from his job. He takes the opportunity to go to Kochi to meet his son. The relationship between him and Radha is cordial enough for him to stay in her house, but no further. There is Biju Uncle (Milind Soman) on the scene, who has been a father figure to Armaan. Roshan tries to do the dad thing, taking the kid to Delhi to eat chhola bhatura, to visit his surly grandpa, to Amritsar dhabas and so on, giving him some life lessons on the way, but both know it’s temporary.

Roshan’s meeting with Biju is the funniest scene in the film; Roshan feeling inferior to the attractive and obviously wealthy man whose house is full of books and art. Biju suggests Roshan convert a rundown bus into a food truck. In India, Roshan could have bought a truck relatively cheap, but let that pass.

His assistant Nazrul (Chandan Roy Sanyal) from New York turns up, they find a sneering but efficient driver Alex (Dhanish Kartik) and along with Armaan, Roshan goes from Kochi to Delhi with stopovers on the way, where his ‘invention’ the rotzza (roti-pizza) becomes a bit hit. Actually, stuffing between two rotis is called a paratha in India, but let that pass too.

The father-son bonding has some moments of warmth, but the film somehow does not travel too well from Hollywood to Bollywood. In the West, there is no snobbery about what one does for a living; in India a man who sells food on the street would hardly be given the status of a chef.

Saif Ali Khan is comfortable playing a forty-year-old man at mid-life crisis point, he also learnt how to wield a chef’s knife and serve pasta, but there’s not enough food in the film to make the mouth water, or strong enough emotions to touch the heart.

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