What was insightful and entertaining about Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef’ was the way he showed how twitter could bypass the journalistic review system and question a negative food review that is published in a hallowed media outlet, and written by a celebrity critic. The chef in that film abuses the critic, and the altercation goes viral, leading to a public re-evaluation of the subsequently disgraced and jobless chef. The personal taste and popularity of an individual turns out to be, in our digital world, more important than a critical judgement by a professional. This idea is tossed around in the film, to our great amusement, and occasional distress.
Unfortunately, the official Hindi adaptation of this movie does not focus on the dramatic changes in art and food criticism, and on the transformation that has taken place in the way the public now processes received opinions on matters subjective. Instead, it is a straightforward, event by event, situation by situation, character by character, adaptation of the Hollywood film. Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan), a three star Michelin chef in a restaurant in New York is sacked by the owner for punching a disgruntled customer. He is a self made Punjabi from Amritsar, who started off as a cook in ‘dhabas’, much to the distress of his father, who wanted a more conventional profession for him. But food was his passion. After much financial struggle, and unsupported by his family, he did a course in a culinary institute in Goa, and started getting very well known for his creative, multi-cuisine dishes.
Though having realised his ambition, Roshan is now exhausted and unemployed after the fracas in New York, and flies back to his ex-wife and son in Kochi. There, the rich boy-friend of his ‘ex' (Milind Soman) offers him a business deal and suggests he start a restaurant of his own. The premises will be free - a vintage, double decker bus that he can convert into a mobile restaurant. His sous chef from the restaurant in New York (Chandan Roy Sanyal) joins him, his son (Svar Kamble) sees him as a role model, his former wife (Padmapriya Janakiraman) is enormously supportive of the new enterprise, and all seems well with the world again.
The trouble with the film is that it is just too ‘goody goody’. There are no areas of conflict in the life of this chef once he comes back to India, and the movie chugs along with very sweet characters being nice to each other. The relationships, especially the one between Roshan, his ‘ex’, and her lover, is presented as a mature, post-modern way of dealing with a failed marriage. This may be politically correct, but is terribly boring to watch. There is so much formality in the treatment of the three-way relationship, you could be forgiven for mistaking the conversations to be one between an account executive, an art director and their client, discussing a campaign strategy. More importantly, the interactions between all characters in the movie are bland; without irony, humour or passion. Even the sous chef and admirer from New York, does not bond with his mentor in a natural, 'buddy-buddy' way.
There is something awkward, stilted, and studied about the direction of actors in ‘Chef’, and this is surprising, coming from a director whose last venture was ‘Airlift’, a movie that displayed excellent judgement in casting, and which had good acting from all supporting actors. By comparison, ‘Chef’ is a huge let down.