There’s just something about the Indian cuisine that translates so effervescently onto the silver screen. The meticulous, intricate process to create these vibrant dishes is more like art than it is cooking, and there’s such a passion and fervour that comes with pleasing their consumers, it’s a spirit that emanates through to the audience. It’s evidently an area filmmakers are keen on exploring, as to follow both Jadoo and The Lunchbox, which also used Indian cooking as a means of driving their narratives, comes Lasse Hallström’s
When the Kadam family, led by the impassioned father (Om Puri) relocate to a serene, isolated village in France, they decide to open up a restaurant, with the talented young Hassan (Manish Dayal) as head chef. However, the building they purchase just so happens to be on the same street as a Michelin star enterprise, which infuriates the owner Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Though they fight and compete against one another, Mallory soon realises Hassan’s innovative talent for cooking could benefit her own establishment. While in the meantime, he is caught up in a romance with his potential colleague, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).
There’s a distinctively affable tone to this production, that while frustratingly predictable, and unbearably cliched at times, maintains its sweet atmosphere, and the enchantment that comes with the infusion of traditional Mumbai culture, which often tends to illuminate the screen so well. However there are far too many themes at play, and we lose sight of Hallström’s direction. There’s a duality in the narrative, as we’re focusing on the rivalry between restaurants, but then also of Hassan’s rise to prominence as a chef. But then when you add a sprinkling of romance, and a pinch of cultural clashes, it becomes overwhelming. Any great cook knows that simplicity is so often the most vital component in creating a good dish – and sometimes cinema is no different.
The performances are all impressive, Mirren is wonderful as Mallory, playing the role with such conviction and sincerity that we abide by the character whether she’s being spiteful and ignorant, or warm and tender. For somebody so palpably English, she does a fine job encapsulating the subtle sensibilities of French people, not only adjusting her accent for the part, but her mannerisms also. Puri also shines, and as he showed in East is East, he has a stern, unforgiving side to his demeanour, but beneath the facade is a fragility of sorts and insecurity – and in this instance it’s the latter that he connects with, playing an endearing character with a lot of heart.
However given the talent behind this production, with Steven Knight penning the screenplay and producer credits for both Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey (not to mention the credentials of those on screen), you do hope for something a little more accomplished and creative, as this picture just doesn’t quite feel unique enough and is perhaps too mild. This is far more like a chicken korma, when in truth, you’d much rather have a lamb jalfrezi.