We are momentously influenced by films. As children we learned to fantasise essentially by watching them and mysteriously tracking attractive components in stories. Romance, flair, trend, even ecstasy and melancholy gushed out of our village screens. Time hasn’t taken away our love or fondness for movies. The supremacy and splendour of this visual art form still nudges our sentiments and its subsistence remains larger than life.
More than ten years ago, in a casual conversation I asked renowned Indian filmmaker Santosh Sivan why none made a good movie on food, exploring its power and effect on people and the world at large. Santosh replied, “There are movies on food already, really nice ones.” He gave me a list of movies to follow as I said: “I have glimpsed miracles around art of cooking, a spiritual sensation, may be a film can articulate this to wider world!”
Like a kid, I watched all of them in timeout away from work; in a way it intensified my ardour for food and conviction. I think of Mexican film Like Water for Chocolates the best in terms of multifaceted moods of food preparation and its sensual choreography of the narrative. Every picture that followed in essence tapped cooking to sell romantic stories rather than impart values for future of global bilateral benefits.
Arrival of The Hundred-Foot Journey generated the same curiosity, may be more since it’s a marriage of classic French cooking with exotic Indian flavours. Based on Richard Morais’s book, produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, it’s a good effort exploring two distant cultures from a close enough distance and eventually unite.
Fleeing communal uprising in Mumbai, after losing his wife and restaurant in a fire, Papa Kadam with his family of two boys and a girl land in London, then travel around Europe. In the last leg of the tour, their old tricolour caravan ends up in a French hamlet. His burning desire to open a restaurant and to encourage the best out of his talented son Hassan, he stumbles in front of Chef Mallory’s popular Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur and her sous chef Marguerite.
To cut a long story short, restaurant “Maison Mumbai” kicks off, a cold war springs up between Mallory and Papa. The warring chefs resort to vandalism; Madame Mallory identifies Hassan’s gift for cooking; Papa reluctantly hands over his son to Mallory’s kitchen to see him delve into French haute cuisine and help the restaurant earn a second Michelin star. Multiple romances develop, between protagonists Hassan-Marguerite and Mallory-Papa, beautifully interwoven with light-hearted humour.
Manish Dayal and the insanely gorgeous Charlotte Le Bon put up a splendid performance. A R Rahman’s score is blissful, blending well with situations of both cultures.
Hassan rises to become a top chef in Paris, bringing to opposing cultures together in culinary grandeur. Brilliant acting by Om Puri and Helen Mirren make cuisines and traditions stand tall together. We felt so proud of our food and it’s future in this world!
This season has been very special as hope and confidence reached its peak, we watched the Indian Prime Minister launch a whole series of campaigns and speeches to awaken individuals to rise above mediocrity and to be world-beaters. Just like Hassan realising his best out of French cooking, looking forward to the day when our boys will win stars with our own brilliant food. Eternal flames, a fleeting sensual pleasure, spiritually inspired thoughts; we are marching forward with much more to come out of India’s thousands of years-old cooking heritage.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants