Film: Ustad Hotel

(Malayalam)

Director: Anwar Rasheed

Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Thilakan, Nithya Menon

The film Ustad Hotel is set in a hotel of the same name situated on Kozhikode beach – a charming eatery with fading wall paint, amiable staff, and a rusty blue delivery van.

Their specialty is Karim’s biriyani, a secret recipe of Karim Khan’s (portrayed by Thilakan), that tempts the palates of the rich and poor alike. Karim is joined by his grandson Faisal (played by Dulquer Salmaan), an aspiring chef. As Faisal begins to discover his grandfather’s culinary secrets and skills, he also discovers a little more about himself. What makes this simple tale a good film is the familiarity of its characters.

A young man trying to achieve his dreams, a father who has high hopes for his son, and an old man who tries to make his world a little better – they are characters drawn from people we see around us every day. Their hopes, prejudices, and trials in life mirror our own. The film is part of Malayalam cinema’s new-found love for food stories and men who cook.

But it also takes on many other themes – people’s notions of success, a father’s relationship with his son, and the bonds that society places on its youth.

The script by Anjali Menon weaves together all these elements with a light humour that is entertaining. A few of the characters and plot lines are somewhat underdeveloped, leaving some loose ends.

The overall mood of the film, however, stays intact. Thilakan delivers his performance with panache, carrying the story forward without overpowering it. The film also brings alive the hustle and bustle of Kozhikode’s streets, life on the beach and the people’s love for great food. Indeed, the food is almost a separate character in this film, lending its many flavours to the filmmakers’ views on life. Standing on the beach with cups of ‘sulaimani’ in their hands, Karim Khan tells his grandson about the perfect brew – one that evokes warm memories and focuses the beauty of life in a single sip. Ustad Hotel is just that – a mix of endearing characters and poignant images that hits the audience with warmth and energy.

Nidhi Surendranath

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