Youth and youthfulness appear to be the flavour of the season, with many young directors (and a few veterans too) catering to popular demand with fresh, tasteful, and meaningful themes that celebrate the ordinary. And nothing is so in touch with life than food. Young director Aashiq Abu of ‘Daddy Cool' fame dishes up a platter full of fun in his new film ‘Salt n' Pepper,' which releases in theatres today.
‘Salt n' Pepper' is Aashiq's ode to food and, of course, foodies. “For a society that is so fond of food, this genre of cinema has not been really explored much in Mollywood, save for a few films. As a foodie, I was inspired to make a film centred on food when I came across this interesting script by Syam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair,” says Aashiq.
Although food has provided the backdrop to a few films such as ‘Mr. Butler,' ‘Kalayanaraman' and ‘Pavithram,' to name a few, ‘ Salt n' Pepper' is perhaps the first time in Mollywood that characters (literally) bond over the stove. The film narrates the tale of a mature couple, two foodies, who fall in love while making a dessert, a multi-layered cake called Joan's Rainbow.
“The story goes that at the end of the Second World War, a French soldier's wife started baking a strawberry cake to give her husband when he returned from the War. He didn't turn up that day, nor did he the next day when she had added a pistachio-flavoured layer to the cake. On the third day she baked a third layer, one in orange flavour, but he didn't come that day either. On the fourth day when she was about to lose hope, her husband arrived bearing a box of chocolates! The woman is said to have melted the chocolates and made a fourth layer, and served the rainbow of layers to her husband, sealing their bond of love forever.
“In ‘Salt n' Pepper' the main characters Kalidasan (Lal), an archaeologist, and Maya (Shwetha Menon), a dubbing artiste, set out to make Joan's Rainbow. They encourage each other on the phone and through their conversations over the four days, they fall in love,” says the director. An integral part of this recipe of love is the story of a young couple, the happy-go-lucky management graduate called Manu (played by Asif Ali) and an IELTS teacher called Meenakshi (Mythili), who dreams of immigrating to Canada. Likewise, the story of a chef named Babu (played by Baburaj).
However, Joan's Rainbow is not the only reference to food in the film. It really is a celebration of all things food, peppered as it is with many clippings and mentions about authentic Kerala cuisine. And that's right from the title song ‘Chembavul...,' which features visuals of famous eateries across Kerala such as Hotel Buhari in Thiruvananthapuram, Kayikka's biriyani in Kochi, Hotels Zain, Sagar, and Paragon in Kozhikode, Paris hotel in Kannur, and the unique three-metre tea at a stall in Kumbalangi, to name a few, besides some Kerala specialities such as Malabar Erachi pathiri. Even the lyrics of the rustic song, written by Rafeeq Ahmed, has some interesting allusions to romance and food, such as equating the sentiment to palada prathaman sliding off a banana leaf and slippery slices of mango in a mampazha pulisheri!
“‘Salt n' Pepper' is meant to be a light-hearted entertainer; it's nothing serious – no big plots, no big twists – but plain old common sense, and dollops of good ol' fun,” says the 32-year-old Aashiq, who credits his young team, all in their late 20's and early 30's, for rising up to the challenge to make a different kind of cinema. And that's including ‘ alternative Malayalam rock' band Avial's anthem ‘Aanakallan…,' which is said to bring the film to a rocking end.
“After all, if we youngsters don't take up the challenge, who will? The very survival of Malayalam cinema depends on fresh inputs across the spectrum. Not that it was or is going to be an easy task. It's hard to change the existing mindset, right from the actors to the distributors. For instance, we had a tough time convincing the industry to accept our flamboyant posters (designed by Papaya), instead of the usual run-of-the-mill cut-outs in a white background. It's really these little things that make a difference,” feels Aashiq.
“The industry is going through a transition period with the likes of Rajesh Pillai's ‘Traffic' proving that sensible cinema works. We need more films like that.” The cast and crew of ‘Salt n' Pepper' must be hoping this is the recipe for success!