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‘Chef’ review: hungry for more

Padmapriya, Saif Ali Khan and Svar Kamble in an image from ‘Chef’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Somewhere early on in Chef, Radha (Padmapriya Janakiraman) tells her ex husband Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan) about their son Armaan (Svar Kamble): “Divorce sirf mera tumhara hua hai. Armaan ko apne aap se door mat jaane dena. (The divorce is between us. Don’t let it distance you from Armaan).” It’s what is good about the film—how even a severed relationship seems to have something affirmative about it. Of course there are residual grudges (held against each other), emerging jealousies (when it comes to another man in her life) and resultant conflicts but they don’t lead to an absolute negativity, as in the case of another bond (unfortunately not fully thought through) shown in the film—between Roshan and his old father (Ram Gopal Bajaj) who didn’t want him to make a career out of the rasoi (kitchen).

Chef
  • Director: Raja Krishna Menon
  • Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Milind Soman, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ram Gopal Bajaj
  • Run time: 133.32 minutes
  • Storyline: New York-based 3 star Michelin chef Roshan Kalra returns to his son in India and goes on a foodie journey to find his mojo back

The dynamics of modern-day, urban associations are well-observed. It’s the uneven, jagged and lazy tone of the film that lets it down badly. We meet an angry chef at the very start, yelling at his colleagues in the kitchen. But his anxieties are not contextualised. The angst then doesn’t feel real so much as something consciously carried out and hurriedly established with a voiceover here and few scenes from the past there. The sequence where he discusses life’s many issues over drinks and pasta with his friend Vini (Sobhita Dhulipala) comes off stiff, stilted and numbingly frigid. Why make such a big deal about what appear to be life's normal problems?

Thankfully, Roshan’s equation with his awkward teenaged son feels delightfully real and heart-warming and gets the action on an even keel when he moves to Kochi. But things come undone in the second half as they get going on a road trip with a food truck called Raasta Café. There is nothing hereon in to sustain or develop the wisp of a plot. Characters—like sous chef Nazrul (belated but welcome re-entry of Chandan Roy Sanyal in the scheme of the film) and driver Alex (Dinesh Nair)—are shoved in as an afterthought. The deliberate insertion of Raghu Dixit and his “Shugal” song and the predictable, clumsy and melodramatic climax add to the patchiness in a film that otherwise shuns drama (at times needlessly so) and prefers to remain oddly distant, laidback and matter of fact when it comes to handling emotions of any kind.

The unevenness and a sense of detachment and reserve in the script rubs off on the performances too. Khan is on an easy wicket here—he once was good at doing the urbane, suave, confused young man roles; here he gets to become an urbane, suave, confused middle aged man (do note the Dil Chahta Hai reference). Essentially still a boy in urgent need of growing up. You can sense the actor’s comfort with the character. He becomes Roshan rather well but at times also seems to get too casual and uninvolved. He and his onscreen son Svar Kamble have a good thing going; their togetherness has an easy-going touch. Khan also dances well with Padmapriya who, otherwise, has very little to do than be her warm self on camera, say the lines and laugh and smile.

Chef is a food film. Food being a metaphor, a refuge, a calling, an inspiration and therapy here. In fact, it’s a character unto itself but one which is not done full justice to. Like with its tone, emotions, characters and performances the film stays consciously aloof in handling food as well. Raja Krishna Menon does well in igniting the romance of local cuisine—from the idiappams in Kerala to chhole bhature in Delhi via the poi in Goa. But there could and should have been much more. Why does Khan have to keep cooking the same pasta and Rottza (roti+pizza) over and over again? Yes the film critics, used to their popcorn-samosa-cold drink, would crave for them anyhow. But some more enticing dishes, beyond the tamatar chutney, would have made this a more hearty meal. As things stand the two most delicious bits about Chef are the beautiful Fort Kochi and Milind Soman in a veshti.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 11:42:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/chef-review-hungry-for-more/article19807372.ece

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