When I stepped out of the theatre after watching director Raja Krishna Menon’s Chef earlier this week, I hoped that Roshan Kalra’s (Saif Ali Khan) food truck Raasta Café was parked outside. Even though I have never tasted a Rottza (a desi version of quesadillas made with rotis instead of tortillas that Roshan describes as his invention), I was craving that with a side of banana and potato crisps.
A remake of Jon Favreau’s 2014 sleeper hit, Chef has Saif Ali Khan playing a frustrated three Michelin-star chef in New York. A very public meltdown, where he ends up assaulting a customer, results in him being fired. In a bid to reconnect with his habitually disappointed son (Svar Kamble) and to get his cooking mojo back, Roshan reinvents himself with a food truck.
Even before the father-and-son duo bond over cheese-laden (paneer, egg burfi and kheema) rottzas, Roshan takes Armaan on a culinary journey from the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk to the world’s largest communal kitchen in the Golden Temple and dhabas of Amritsar. The film opens with the crusty surface of an aalu tikki being broken open before being slathered with the usual chaat paraphernalia of cold yogurt, tangy tamarind and fiery mint chutney and juliennes of ginger. And, every single shot of food being cut, prepared and served is a feast for the eyes.
Imagine this – the theatre is dark; the film is rolling and, you are dreaming of chugging a chilled glass of lassi in Amritsar or a mouth-water grilled cheese or marching into the nearest patisserie for glorious gateaux or charming choux pastries.
Some movies make you fall in love, some movies make you cry, and a handful of them make you very, very hungry.
Roshan Kalra is not the only desi celluloid chef returning to his roots this year. In director Pratim D Gupta’s Bengali film Maacher Jhol, Dev D (Ritwick Chakraborty), a Parisian chef comes back to Kolkata to see his ailing mother (Mamata Shankar). Her only request – maacher jhol (film curry) like how he used to make it. It’s been more than a decade after he had last made jhol for his mother so Dev struggles to get the flavors right. He tries different combinations of cauliflowers, peas and potatoes with fish in mustard broth but his mother tells him ‘it’s not ‘that’ maacher jhol’. On his last attempt, Dev dazzles his mother with Katla Komola, a jhol with orange juice and no vegetables and garnished with fried curry leaves.
Like Maacher Jhol, director Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malayalam gangster film Angamaly Diaries also celebrates local culinary traditions. Unlike the previous two films, it seems that unlikely that food could be an integral part of a gangster film but it is. The food is always there in the background, being prepared or eaten. The main conflict between the two gangs is over pork; Pepe (Antony Varghese) describes his first love as Kappayum Muttayum (mashed tapioca with eggs) in the local thattukada; and a pivotal fight breaks out over the last plate of rabbit stew. And, all of this is washed down with abundant supply of home made arrack (toddy).
Malyalam cinema has delivered some delicious food films in recent years. In Ustad Hotel, a man takes baby steps toward repairing his relationship with his grandfather by perfecting the flaky kerala porottas. The duo cement their relationship over cups of fragrant sulaimani chai on the beaches of Kozhikode. The tagline of direct Aashiq Abu’s 2011 film Salt n’ Pepper is ‘Oru Dosa Udakkiya Kadha’ (A story born out of a dosa).
In the film, the love for dosa brings together two strangers.
Internationally, there’s a food film out there for every palate. Watching Jiro Ono, the subject of the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, lovingly mold fish and rice together will make the pickiest eaters hungry. Food is an integral part of the Chinese culture and the opening sequence of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, features some of the most breathtaking shots of traditional Chinese cooking.
In I Am Love, a much married Emma (Tilda Swinton) falls in love with an Italian chef after he whips up a shrimp dish for her. Helen Mirren and Om Puri’s The Hundred Food Journey is all about the clash of the cuisines when an Indian restaurant opens opposite a world-famous French one.
Ready for dessert? There’s enough dessert porn in films to satisfy everyone’s sweet cravings. Watching artfully arranged plates of petit fours in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette will definitely trigger a hankering for the pastel-coloured delicate confectionaries. Remember the satisfying crack when Amelie (Audret Tautou) hit the caramelized top of a crème brulee with the back of her spoon? In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) bakes courtesan au chocolat, the three-tiered chocolate-creme-filled pastry glazed with pastel colours.
When food is done well on the big screen, you can almost hear the audiences dreaming about what to eat or even cook once the credits roll. Hopefully, some day taste-o-vision will become a reality and we’d be able to taste all the food we can see on screen.