The Hundred Foot Journey
Masala (Food) Porn

Lasse Hallstrom

Steven Knight

Film Review
The Hundred Foot Journey:Masala (food) porn

The Hundred Foot Journey
Masala (food) porn

‘The Hundred Foot Journey’ is jointly produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Speilberg. Adapted from Richard Morais’ novel by the same name, the film is set mainly in France and has a large Indian presence in the form of actors Juhi Chawla, Om Puri and Manish Dayal.

Mr Kadam (Om Puri) and his family own a small restaurant in India. Of his five children, the star is undoubtedly the second oldest, Hassan (Manish Dayal) an unassuming lad, but formidable in the kitchen. One day, a rioting mob burns down the restaurant and Mrs Kadam (Juhi Chawla) perishes in the fire. Heartbroken papa Kadam decides to relocate the family to London. However, that does not turn out to be their cup of tea and they decide to try their fortunes in Europe, namely, France, the idea being that they hire a car and just sort of trundle around till Lady Luck smacks them in the face.

The car breaks down and Providence, in the form of Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) rescues them, takes six complete strangers to her house (vive le France!) and feeds them a repast of luscious red tomatoes from her garden, cheese made on the family farm, bread baked by her and suchlike. She works as a sous chef at the Michelin-star restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur, owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren.) Before you can say “tangdi kabab” Papa promptly buys up the dilapidated building across the road and renames it ‘Maison Mumbai’; voila, behold Indian cooking behind the façade of the Taj Mahal. Predictably, it is a full-scale war between the two with the heat turned way up! Somewhere between the sautéing and the tandoor, Hassan falls in love with Marguerite. She tells him the acid test with Madame is an omelette. He prepares one ably sprinkled with Indian spices for Madame, who is so impressed that she offers him a job in her restaurant. Papa objects, but Hassan sticks to his ladles as he wants to learn classic French cooking. He has his way and goes on to earn another Michelin star for Madame’s restaurant, after which there’s no looking back for him, as he is feted and dined by Paris’ top restaurants. However, he is homesick as well as heartsick and returns to the tiny village, offers to buy a stake in Madame’s restaurant, ropes in Marguerite as partner and all’s well that ends well.

Except, that is, for the audience. Speaking for myself, I was bored witless. In spite of a stellar cast of Helen Mirren and Om Puri, the film fails to rise (pun intended) to the occasion. The pace is almost unbearably tedious. I have nothing against movies on food – ‘Chocolat’ and ‘No Reservations’ were delightfully done, with a tale behind the telling - however, if the crux of the story is to revolve around the five basic French sauces or pigeon breast with truffle sauce (perfectly cooked and presented, by the way) then it’s not going to hold much water.

The screenplay of ‘The Hundred Foot Journey’ (Steven Knight) is exceedingly splotchy. For one, we assume those are Hindu-Muslim riots although we are never told so categorically; it’s almost a by-the-by element in the movie, even though that is the fact on which the story hinges, surely. The immigrations scene is a study in shoddiness! Am I to believe then that I can just land up in France and ask for asylum on the basis that I didn’t quite like living in London?? Further, is it really that easy to set up a restaurant in a tiny village somewhere in the interiors of southern France, as Papa & Co would have us think? Throw in a tinge of racism, with one of Madame’s chefs scribbling graffiti on the Maison Mumbai wall and you can almost see the director thinking, ‘there, I’ve added a pinch of curry powder and that should do the trick!’ Somewhere in all this, a crew member who’s no doubt a foodie, raised another angle and so molecular gastronomy made its entrée and we are treated a moving montage of test tubes and crucibles and funny looking bubbles we’re told are edible.

What on earth possessed Juhi Chawla to do this blink-and-miss-it role? Surely there are better ways of steaming, err, storming, Hollywood or, in this case, Follywood. Helen Mirren delights. Chantal and Manish ably hold up their ends of the bargain. Om Puri is classic Om Puri and mouths his English dialogues with earthy Punjabi undertones with aplomb; this role is such a take-off on his ‘East is East’ character that he can probably do it in his sleep now.

Music is by AR Rahman. The cinematography is a total delight – Linus Sandgren, take a bow. The vegetable market is a riot of colours that has been marvellously captured by the lens, so also the mushroom hunting in the woods. Editing is by Andrew Mondshein; don’t suppose he had much to do with anything, poor chap, as the story is so predictable it’s threadbare.

As Hassan states in the movie: “Food is memories.” Indeed. Now that I’ve had my unexpected snooze, I need to go dish up some chow, as the popcorn is now but a memory!

   Punam Mohandas

Punam Mohandas is a film buff, a journalist, an author, an accomplished travel writer and an expert on South Asia. She also writes columns on film personalities. She has lived and worked in India, Dubai and Bangkok.

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