The Hundred-Foot Journey: French cake, Indian icing

A still from The Hundred-Foot Journey.  

It’s an unusual recipe that mixes together tandoori masalas with foie gras. As Indians, we could choose to be offended by the stereotyping in The Hundred-Foot Journey — blustery North Indian family that plays loud music and carries around a suitcase filled with spices their dead matriarch made — or decide it’s fun to see Om Puri share top billing with Helen Mirren.

I decided to go the latter route, because Mirren-Puri is a rare flavour, and the foodie film is easy on the senses, filmed as it is with mouth-watering lushness by Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren.

But first, you have to swallow a few unlikely ingredients in this culinary dramedy — such as the ease with which the Kadam family seems to immigrate into England, then Europe. Or there’s the detail about Papa Kadam (Om Puri) being able to buy an abandoned restaurant in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val — a village so gorgeously perfect, you suspect ‘picturesque’ was invented just to describe it.

Papa browbeats the five Kadam offspring to settle in the South of France village, and open an Indian restaurant, the Maison Mumbai. The location seems an unlikely one for Indian food to prosper, especially as Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) that serves classical French food, is just 100 feet across the road. “Who are zees people?” she enquires, obviously having a great time with ze French accent.

We are given clues as to where our sympathies ought to lie.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Genre: Drama

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon

Storyline:Tandoori chicken takes on beef bourguignon in the South of France

Bottomline:: Easily digestible bill of fare

The Maison Mumbai with a Taj Mahal-esque cut-out, blinking lights, glittery placemats and generous servings is just garish enough to seem ‘real’, as opposed to the perfectly plated morsels across the road.

The heart of the story, set to an energetic score by A.R. Rahman, is the Maison Mumbai’s secret ingredient: the amiably good-looking middle son Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) who has a magical talent in the kitchen. Thanks in part to Madame Mallory’s beautiful sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), Hassan develops a passion for French cuisine.

The young culinary ingénue/savant is waiting to be taken under the wing of the good Madame and set on the path to becoming a world-renowned chef. But… will she overcome her prejudices and lower her patrician nose enough to smell the talent just 100 feet away? What do you think?

The young lovers — American Dayal and Canadian Le Bont — pursue a charming if bland romance. The real sizzle comes from the battle between the imperious Madame and brash Papa. Director Lasse Hallstrom — who has previously shown his appetite for foodie films in Chocolat — might like all of this to speak about the larger issues of culture clashes, but the idea is not explored in any great depth.

The story is written by Steven Knight and based on a popular novel by Richard C. Morais. What’s more, it has the blessing of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey as producers.

The Hundred-Foot Journey talks about a young chef’s ability to cross-fertilise two great cooking traditions of the world and create something new. However, the movie itself is less a complex cardamom-infused Pigeon aux Truffes and more a light, sweetly palatable meringue.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 7:21:19 PM |

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