Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan’s delectable drama, Chef, is a relief on several fronts.
The inglorious mid-life crisis, identity struggle, fractured marital relationship and single parents’ woes are showcased with impeccable grace in director Raja Krishna Menon’s slice-of-life drama.
An example of a perfectly-cast film, Khan owns the role of Roshan Kalra — a chef who lacks inspiration in his job and is fast losing his cooking mojo.
The affable Kalra — played wonderfully by Khan — is a Michelin-starred chef running an Indian fine-dining kitchen in New York, but he has a meltdown when one of his customers finds fault in his food. He gets fired, and returns to India to spend time with his young son and his ex-wife.
This is the Hindi adaptation of the 2014 Hollywood hit of the same name, and it has been altered from the Jon Favreau version.
Here, it’s not a discerning critic with a scathing review that triggers the hero’s decline, but an unsuspecting, restaurant patron who finds the food served at Kalra’s kitchen flawed. The critical customer points it out to the volatile chef and is punched on the nose. The retribution felt over-dramatic. While Favreau’s conflict, where he goes on a virtual Twitter war with the noted critic, was a lot more believable and searing than Kalra’s cause of anger. His zero tolerance to criticism from a customer seemed exaggerated.
But the rest of the story is fortunately drama-free. Kalra’s tenuous relationship with his son and his ex-wife, played confidently by South Indian actress Padmapriya, is beautifully explored in this drama.
The wry humour, especially when Kalra gets acquainted with his ex-wife’s close friend (cameo by the dashing aristocrat Milind Soman) is pure comic cold.
Khan slips into the role of a temperamental, but suave chef smoothly.
His chemistry with Padmapriya and the young Svar Kamble, who impresses us with his effortless acting, crackles. They are believable as this adorable father-son-ex-wife triangle who are unsure around each other.
Director Menon, who has set his drama in his native land, does an outstanding job of painting the milieu of Kerala, its people and their communist leanings.
Now coming to the food, you are left craving for Kalra’s rotzza (a cross between a roti and a pizza) by the end of the film. The way in which Khan prepares the crispy flat bread and its spicy filling is hunger-inducing. Khan’s knifing skills and his attention to detail while cooking food are drool-worthy scenes. If you are looking for food porn, then you will be satiated here.
But his character’s decision to be a culinary sell-out by becoming a food-truck owner is swift and not wholly believable. That portion of the film as to why he would step down from his pedestal seems under-cooked (OK, I will stop with the food puns). The same complaint could be levelled against Khan’s relationship with his ex-wife. While it has been handled maturely, it would have been gratifying to know why they split and got divorced. Their estrangement had no riveting back story.
But that shouldn’t stand in your way of enjoying this heart-warming drama. It’s modern, funny and leaves you hungry for more.
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya
Rating: 13 years and over
Stars: 3.5 out of 5