Chef – a reheated remake of a Hollywood film of the same name, directed by Jon Favreau – is a story of a father who seeks the approval of his son. It is also the story of redemption, second chances, and plausible sounding hipster food.
The Hollywood film was written and directed by Favreau who was also its star. In Favreau’s own words, he wanted to make a film about food, and go back to basics. Which seemed to have worked for both the film, and its protagonist, chef Carl.
Here in Saif Ali Khan-Raja Krishna Menon’s Chef, Roshan Kalra the protagonist isn’t going back to basics as much as reinventing it. And the film, like the food he makes, sounds and looks hip and cool, but the filling is a bit thin. Nevertheless, it still works and holds you up till dinner time.
Chef is produced by T Series’ Bhushan Kumar, along with Janani Ravichandran and Raja Krishna Menon, and is directed by Raja Krishna Menon. The screenplay was adapted from the original by Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, and Raja Menon. Chef stars Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble, Dhanish Karthik, and others, with a cameo by musician (and the film’s composer) Raghu Dixit.
The chef of a New York-Indian restaurant, Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan), gets into an altercation with a diner, and punches him. Roshan then has to spend a night in jail, and the next day is fired from him job. His ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya) and son Armaan (Svar Kamble) are in Kerala, and the son asks if Roshan can come back for a school performance.
Roshan needs to decide between re-establishing a sort of relationship with his son, and getting another job. He decides to go to Kochi, and to spend a few days with his son while asking friends to look out for a job.
Once in Kochi, he meets his ex-wife’s possibly-perhaps-not really new boyfriend Biju (Milind Soman), who is also a very rich man who wants to invest in Roshan. He thinks his wife possibly perhaps not really wants to get married to the boyfriend. He also realises his son likes the possible boyfriend, and therefore, has a crisis of manliness. His son also expresses a preference for good south Indian, Mallu food, which gives Roshan a crisis of Punjabiness. Therefore, while Radha is away on a dance tour, Roshan whisks Armaan with him to Delhi and Amritsar, to inculcate manly Punjabiness in his son. And gives him, and us the audience, Roshan Kalra’s backstory.
The two return to Kochi where Biju wants Roshan to turn a rusty old bus into a food truck, with Biju’s money. This would therefore enable Roshan to find his roots again and rediscover the 15-year-old fighter who ran away from home and became a world famous chef in New York. This gives Roshan a further crisis of faith and manliness, and so we go into the interval.
Thus far, in Saif Ali Khan’s Chef, Roshan has made pasta five times – all the same kind of pasta requiring pretty much the most basic ingredients and the simplest process. I am no chef, but I can cook more varied meals with little to no ingredients in the kitchen. But that’s perhaps besides the point. To be fair to Saif, he is also seen making a tomato chutney in an Amritsar dhaba (one I’ve eaten at) and it feels believable and chef-y, but I am not impressed yet.
Jon Favreau’s Chef had such fantastic, salivating food shots, and showed chef Carl in the kitchen of his restaurant at least acting like he belonged there.
When we come back from interval (and truly getting into the spirit of things, I ate a tired vada pav from a small stall during the break. I’ve done my duty to this review) Roshan has decided to take up the food truck challenge and brings it home. He begins to clean it up and fit it out when his protege and best friend from his kitchen in New York arrives to give him a hand.
Mild digression – while I understand this is a Hindi film, is it too much to ask that a character who is established as a Malayali, in Kochi, speak Malayalam to other people who are speaking in Malayalam? Why must Radha – Padma – answer the labour union leader in Hindi? Was it that difficult to 1) coach an actress born to Tamil speaking parents to speak five words in Malayalam? or 2) use a dubbing artist?
Back from the digression – Roshan manages to fit out the truck, turn it into a hipster food truck and finds first success among other hipster people in Kochi Biennale. He then decides to drive the truck down to Delhi, egged on by Armaan and his assistant.
So now the film becomes a father-son bonding moment over a road trip. Along the way, they stop at Goa, feed more hipster people, meet a band of musicians. All this faithfully put on social media by his tech savvy son. As he travels down the country, Roshan and Armaan, have small adventures and make amends for the past. And new fans on Twitter and Facebook.
While on the road trip, Roshan learns that his friend and ex-sous chef has found a job for him in New York. And so Roshan must once again decide between family and career. He seems to have decided on the career, and we roll into New Delhi. Here, Roshan and gang cook up a storm in their food truck and aided by Armaan’s social media skills, become hugely popular. Radha arrives to take Armaan back to Kerala, and Roshan must pack his bags and go to the Big Apple.
But Roshan has the last and final revelation of the film, and things end there.
For a film about a chef, there’s is very little food, and very little attempt at showing food. Except for one scene in Radha’s home, in a traditional, smoky, earthy kitchen where Roshan first makes the fusion roti-pizza, none of the food shots in the film are worth biting into. What’s more, my father made us all pizza at home on an old OTG using store-bought flat-bread bases. What Roshan is “inventing” had already been invented some 20 years ago. Passing off roti with toppings as new invention food is a disservice to all the amazing fusion food Chennai, Madurai, Bengaluru, Mumbai and other cities have come up with.
Why don’t we see any great food shots? Is it because “Indian” food cannot be stylised and shot beautifully for screen? There is some merit to this – but advertising agencies and Facebook content marketers have already solved this problem. Is the lack of food shot a conscious decision to allow the filmmakers to tell the story of the father and son? If that is the case, then why remake Chef at all? Why not pick other films or write one’s own story of redemption?
And why are there so few “action” scenes – by which I mean, a chef in the kitchen, a man who loves to cook actually cooking? We see a bit here and there, which is soon cut away to Saif Ali Khan doing other things. There is no sustained, believable kitchen action in this version of the film.
And pasta. Why does a chef who learnt cooking in the streets of Chandini Chowk and the langar kitchens of the Golden Temple, make pasta? Would he not make for himself a rajma chawal? A basic dal tadka and kulcha? I understand that you want to unwind from your work as a chef at an Indian restaurant, but making the same pasta for your girlfriend, your pregnant wife, and your friend – it’s a big let down.
Perhaps this is an unfair comparison between the original and the remake, but the reason Carl of Jon Favreau’s Chef has his breakdown and subsequent crisis of faith and returns to his basics, and the reasons for Roshan Kalra of Saif Ali Khan’s Chef to have a breakdown are miles apart and Roshan comes across as an entitled whiner. We don’t see Roshan as a chef at all, in fact the kitchen shots leading up to the altercation shows Roshan’s younger team while he is away somewhere. So why would he go punch a paying customer?
In the end though, all these criticisms don’t matter much. Because what matters is that you leave the cinema hall feeling good. Roshan, Armaan, and Radha have rekindled their love and affection for each other, and have found great joy in being a family together and running their food truck.
While the filling maybe a bit thin in terms of texture, it is fairly well seasoned and the film works, just about.
The Chef review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.