Chef movie cast: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble, Dhanish Karthik, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Milind Soman
Chef movie director: Raja Krishna Menon
Chef movie rating: 2 stars
Roshan Kalra is a chef who is shown unraveling when we first meet him: frothing at the mouth, and out of a job. Right from then on, ‘Chef’ takes pains to tell us that despite himself, and the roadblocks he runs into, Kalra will get to where he needs to, not wants to.
This is a grown-up premise, and the film is fashioned as a solid rom com cum a late coming of age tale of Peter-Pan-like adults. It is no surprise that this desi ‘Chef’ is a near-faithful adaptation of the Hollywood hit of the same name, directed by Jon Favreau. And it is perfectly apt that Roshan Kalra is played by Saif Ali Khan, a star desperately in need of grown-up re-invention.
‘Chef’ is a good-looking film, with good-looking people. The ingredients have been carefully assembled. Khan is ripe for real difference, playing a divorced, middle-aged man and a father to a young boy (Kamble), who is a natural. The leading lady (Janakiraman) has a smile that reaches her eyes: she feels organic in a way no one else does. And there’s a solid supporting cast: we see Chandan Roy Sanyal having fun, and an all-too brief turn by the deliciously salt-and-pepper Milind Soman.
There are some interesting flavours here, but ‘Chef’ feels derivative, and doesn’t come together as a fully satisfactory dish. And that’s got to do with the uneven, stodgy writing. The smoothness that should have been part of a first-rate spread is evident only in some parts: the others are awkward and stilted and contrived, and that impacts the entire film.
This is the kind of film which lends itself to different languages and inflections. Roshan’s ex is a Malayali, so for her to break into her native tongue is natural. That’s true for her son as well, and he does best. Roshan himself is heard speaking perfectly passable Angrezi but they all affect a strange, plastic English Hindi mix, created solely in Bollywood.
And the way the food on display is handled is a disappointment. Kalra claims he is a great chef (did I hear three Michelin stars mentioned somewhere?) but is to be seen twirling his fork around some pasta, mostly. It’s a mystery why Kalra has been written so blandly. A man who loves food literally dives into, takes deep swallows of it, sniffs the aroma, eats with contagious pleasure. Yes, he seems to have lost his mojo, we are told, but what is it that brings him back to the table, all guns firing? I kept waiting for the tipping point. The film does make a stab at depicting the sensuousness that comes with the true enjoyment of cooking and savouring colors and tastes, but it remains, just that, a stab: no one, including Kalra, gets their nose really busy.
Still, this is where Saif Ali Khan needs to be, this zone, where he can be a flawed person in search of his true self. Here he plays, variously, a failed husband, a father not very good at parenting, and a man not knowing what he wants. And he could have made a meal of it, if this was a better realized film.