Synopsis – Chef Roshan Kalra sets out to find the true source of happiness and reignite his passion for food while being more present in his son’s life.
My Take – The original 2014 film directed and starring Jon Favreau was not an extraordinary flick on any level, nor did the film require you think about much, other than few life lessons & a way to find yourself to somehow fulfill your cravings for a hamburger or a wrap once the film was done. Somehow I wasn’t surprised when a Bollywood version was announced, especially considering the film also had an age old father-son bonding setup as the backbone of the film. With that said, despite being an official remake, the film is not a frame to frame copy of the original, instead director Raja Krishna Menon (Airlift) retains the central theme and the character frames, and adds his own ingredient to the already liked dish, giving it its unique taste. Even though the food does play a really important role here, it acts more of a binder than the main ingredient to an emotional drama that very wisely captures your attention, making you live our lead protagonists refreshing journey. The story follows Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan), a three-star Michelin based Indian chef, heading New York’s Gulli restaurant. Angered with the criticism towards his food, he ends up knocking down a customer after the latter passes a few unceremonious remarks, which leads to him spending a night in jail, followed by termination from his position. Left with nothing to do at the moment, Roshan flies down to India to spend some time with his pre-teen son Armaan (Svar Kamble), who lives with his ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya), a well-trained Kathakali artist in a picturesque, old-world bungalow in Kochi.
Noticing that Roshan seems quite dissatisfied with life & his once unique cooking, Radha decides to find him a purpose, which comes in the form of her Biju (Milind Soman), a companion of hers, who offers Roshan a dilapidated truck to be run as a mobile food van. At first, Roshan rejects the idea, but, given he’s finally spending quality time with his son, eventually agrees. Soon, the truck has a gleaming kitchen and the duo are on the road, joined by Nazrul (Chandan Roy Sanyal), a former assistant of Roshan in NY, and an alcoholic driver Alex (Dinesh Nair). How this reignited passion takes Roshan and his son on a life-changing cross-country trip from Kerala to Delhi is what the rest of the film is all about. This is a very on point film, in the sense, the subject touches a deep emotional chord but never falls into a melodramatic conundrum rather scoots away with brevity and clear focus. The same thing also points a hole when it never gives you even a single moment to enjoy the silences or key moments of which Indian audience are a profound fan. The film works on two different levels: first, it takes you on a gastronomic ride making you hungry all the while. Well, there is a huge chance you might want to go out for brunch somewhere to satisfy your hunger pangs. And secondly, the film deals with the small issues with father and son and how they try to get along, and that’s the high point of the film. The film isn’t all about culinary skills and cooking but truly radiates the warmth and emotions making it a cinematic treat for the viewers. The film also throws up the merits of co-parenting, which is a constant state in today’s urban society. In our society, a divorce is such a huge deal that when a marriage breaks, eventually everything about it does. However, the film brings a much-matured tale where despite the relationship failing, the exes still bond with each other. Radha and Roshan throw light on the merits of co-parenting. You see the chemistry between the couple, but nothing goes beyond. If this would have been any other Bollywood director, we bet attraction would have turned into a one-night stand and a lot more, but here it is realistic and not just about, ‘they lived happily ever after!’ Roshan’s equation with his son also looks very real and you do find moments where you can relate to his struggle. The narrative feels familiar but director Menon layers it with genuine heart, injecting dollops of affection through his characters, like Roshan’s sidekick Nazrul is affable, so is a friendly Chachaji who sells Chole Bhature in Chandni Chowk. Saif‘s Roshan donning the Chef’s hat and chopping onions, making Chola Bhaturas, experimenting with pizzas would make you want to wear your apron and get cooking.
What makes this film special is that gives you a slice of life and tugs at your heart. It’s about finding passion and igniting the flame once again. There is one point where Roshan says feeding people with your hand is like god’s blessing that binds up the meaning of cooking for him. Food does play a really important role here but it acts more of a binder than the main ingredient. The film’s core strengths lie in those scenes when Roshan and Armaan bond over food; with the former realizing what he has been missing in his past life. As they develop their relationship over tomato chutney and rotizza, we also savoir in their father-and-son bonding. Thankfully, the dialogues are cheery. The South-North divide is sweet and handled most inoffensively. The writing is particularly clever; especially the Dil Chahta Hai reference was a smart move. Also, when Roshan meets Biju is also an interesting scene. This is a considerable change of pace for director Menon after last year’s Airlift, but he does as well with genial inaction as he did with urgent action. The film’s a bit too audience-pleasing to take seriously—the checklist includes, but doesn’t stop at: amiable lead, perky kid, bright colours, food in almost every scene, and hummable music by Raghu Dixit. Like the original, it’s a film that’s easily consumed, even if, like the original, the emotional beats being stressed are amusingly obvious. The film manages to score full marks in one department and that is cinematography. Priya Seth’s camera work is outstandingly brilliant. She has captured the true essence of India, beautifully. Seth does a splendid job in capturing the beauty of the cuisines right away from the raw cooking stage. Of course, the curse of the second hour ought to strike at some point in every Bollywood flick. The film wobbles in the second half when director Menon kind of spoils what he set out to achieve. Is it a love story? Or a father-son saga? Or a man seeking himself in the clutter of life? It seems he is confused about which direction to take & begins to fall for clichés. The estranged couple gets together with no sparks flying. Shouldn’t a divorced couple have more reason to get back than their son, who clearly wasn’t a factor in the decision earlier? Also, Roshan’s Dilli aggression feels forced making the scenes awkward. Thankfully the film gains steam when he reaches Kerala. But even then the film is not without hiccups. Roshan’s sudden turnaround about having a mobile restaurant is a little hard to believe. And so is the weak climax (a fallacy it shares with the original film). There are pacing issues too that may make you restless but they are soon forgotten when Roshan returns to making food. Performances wise, everyone has done more than decent job. The film has many unfamiliar faces, yet they brought in a great impact. Malayalam actress Padmapriya is terrific as the confident single mom. Svar Kamble is good in his part and Chandan Roy Sanyal is also impressive. Shobhita Dhulipala, who is in exactly three scenes, has a lingering presence. Milind Soman, does well with his scene stealing presence. In his debut film, Svar Kamble is quite decent. However, the film by default belongs to Saif Ali Khan, who is utterly sincere in his portrayal. Saif is back with a kind of a role in which people have always loved him. It’s his first well written role in years as he plays a 41-year-old, a bit stocky with no flat abs and looks comfortable with the kitchen knives as Roshan Kalra. On the whole, ‘Chef’ is a light hearted dramatic take on modern relationships with the right amount of emotion and humor.
Directed – Raja Menon
Rated – PG
Run Time – 133 minutes