Chef review: Few missing flavours spoil this remade recipe

Release Date: 06 Oct 2017 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 13min

Cinestaan Rating

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Mayur Lookhar

Though Saif Ali Khan and Svar Kamble serve up an acting treat, director Raja Krishna Menon fails in his role as the masterchef.

For an audience that largely feasts on masala entertainers, seldom has Hindi cinema been served a truly sumptuous treat. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Bawarchi (1972) was, perhaps, the most savoured cinematic delicacy. The bawarchis (cooks), halwais (confectioners), and bittersweet tracks that used food as a means to one’s heart no longer figure in Hindi cinema's staple diet. Thus, one waited in anticipation expecting a cinematic treat from Saif Ali Khan’s Chef. The trailer, too, served as a good appetizer.

Officially adapted from American actor-director Jon Favreau’s 2014 film of the same title, director Raja Krishna Menon cooked up a story dipped in flavours of northern and southern India.

Roshan Kalra (Khan) is a Michelin star chef working in an Indian restaurant in New York. A divorcee, loneliness and the kitchen heat get to Kalra as he slaps an American guest who is critical of his food. Kalra loses his job and reluctantly heads to Cochin, India, to see his son Armaan (Svar Kamble) perform his maiden dance act at school.

Kalra has made peace with his Malayalee ex-wife Radha Menon (Padmapriya Janakiraman), but his heart burns with envy when he meets Radha’s close friend Biju (Milind Soman), a suave, classy Malayalee businessman who offers to bail out Kalra by asking him to run a mobile cafe.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) had a truck, Roshan Kalra is given a rusty double-decker bus. With some reluctance, Kalra gives in, sensing that this venture will help him get closer to his son. Thus begins a sweet journey of self-discovery, redemption, and strong bonds. 

When I first saw Favreau’s Chef, it came across as an un-Hollywood film. One felt that its aromatic theme could be mixed into Indian spices to prepare a desi Chef.

Director Raja Krishna Menon has said earlier that he doesn’t like remakes and is more keen on adapting. Menon’s Chef is not a remake, but neither has Menon succeeded in creating a grand dish. The treatment, the setting are vastly different from the English original, as Menon has tried making his 'Chef’s special' more palatable to desi taste buds.

The one missing link in the Hindi film, though, is the cynical food critic. There is no Ramsey Michel in the desi Chef. Instead, it’s Kalra’s conservative father who belittles his son’s profession.

Would a Ramsey Michel-like character added flavour to Menon’s Chef? Perhaps not, for Menon falters in baking an appetising screenplay.

After a pretty neat and promising first half, Menon seemed to have lost his recipe in the second half, which lacks some key ingredients.

It must have been a challenge for the nawab of Pataudi to turn into a professional chef. Now, true chefs and harsh critics will shred Khan to smithereens for lacking the finesse of a professional chef. He needn’t have wielded the chef’s knife as per the textbook, but Kalra cooks in a manner akin to actors appearing on television cookery shows. 

Favreau’s chef sold Cuban sandwiches and yuca fries, but in the garb of creativity, Menon gets his chef to cook a rotza, stuffing meat/paneer between two rotis (Indian wheat bread). While copyright is always an issue, will a restaurant named Galli or a mobile food truck named Raasta Cafe ever entice you?

Further, the speed at which the characters cover distances from the South of India to the North and even outside the country is perplexing. Also, save for giving him publicity, how does incorporating music director Raghu Dixit really help the film? Unfortunately, director Menon disappoints in his role as the masterchef. 

Where he succeeds is in bringing out the beauty, food and culture of Kerala. Credit should go to director of photography Priya Seth for capturing some breathtaking and delectable visuals across Kerala and Goa that would trend on Instagram under #travelporn, #foodporn. 

Menon very subtly presents Kerala's love for alcohol too, as displayed by the bus driver Alex (Dinesh Nair). The North-South divide exists, but Menon shows how embracing different cultures is a sign of civil society.

What is perfectly digestible about Chef is the act by its three leads. Khan last played a chef in Salaam Namaste (2005). One is still to be convinced of his culinary skills, but otherwise, the nawab chips in with a commendable performance.

Despite their estranged relationship, Kalra and Radha share a sweet chemistry. Their ball dance at home is a sight to behold. The South Indian actress returns to Hindi cinema after seven years, her first Hindi film being Striker (2010).  She has given a performance that should help her find her footing in this industry. 

Menon’s Chef is essentially a father-and-son story and it is the Kalra-Armaan bonhomie that drives Chef. Svar Kamble comes across as a natural talent who stamps his authority throughout the film. You only hope that the kid gets better with age.

Khan and Kamble serve up an acting treat, but it's the missing flavours that spoil the Chef’s Special.