Saif Ali Khan
IN & AS
DIRECTED BY Raja Krishna Menon
An Adaptation of Jon Favreau’s Film “CHEF”
WRITTEN BY Ritesh Shah (Screenplay & Dialogue), Suresh Nair (Screenplay) & Raja Krishna Menon (Screenplay)
PRODUCED BY Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Vikram Malhotra, Janani Ravichandran & Raja Krishna Menon
INTRODUCING Svar Kamble
STARRING Padmapriya Janakiraman & Chandan Roy Sanyal
Sobhita Dhulipala, Dinesh Nair & Milind Soman
PHOTOGRAPHED BY Priya Seth
EDITED BY Shiv Kumar Panicker
MUSIC BY Raghu Dixit (Soundtrack & Background Score) & Amaal Malik (Soundtrack)
When I first heard that Jon Favreau’s enjoyable and mouth-watering Chef was to be remade in Hindi, I shuddered. Sure, the film has universal themes like food and family but Hindi cinema has the worst possible track record in the remake/adaptation sector. While Sanjay Gupta shamelessly lifts liberally from all sorts of films, you’ve also got Sidharth Anand, who took a below-average movie like Knight & Day, and made the awful Bang Bang. And we’re talking adaptations of films and not books, where one would set the benchmark as low as Chetan Bhagat, three of whose books have been turned into 3 Idiots, Kai Po Che and 2 States, though that is more because there was no way anyone could screw up such shoddy source material and the only trajectory possible was upwards. Simply put, Hindi filmmakers are yet to reach a point where they can adapt a film from a different language rather than remake it frame for frame. To take the origin story of a film and set it in an Indian context with Indian characters is something the remake factory owners in Bombay are yet to grasp.
I’ve always felt that Saif Ali Khan has never really been exploited as an actor. For the longest time, he was the face of Hindi cinema’s rom-com genre. But his other side has been neglected. He’s the only mainstream actor to have done ‘A’ rated films consistently when actors are worried about the rating given to their films by the CBFC, but Saif has done work like Go Goa Gone, Kurbaan, Being Cyrus and Ek Hasina Thi. Though he has had some great turns like Langda Tyagi in Omkara but most of his other roles never seemed to challenge him to push himself in terms of acting. But the helmsman here is Raja Krishna Menon, perhaps the only director apart from Neeraj Pandey who made Akshay Kumar act. Menon was the other reason I wanted to see this film. I really like his work in Airlift. Nobody would’ve thought of Akshay Kumar in the role of Ranjit Katyal. Menon did and he went a step further in making the film the hero and not the hero the film. Such directors are few and far between in Bombay.
Roshan Kalra is a divorced, middle-aged chef in a New York restaurant. Certain issues in life have caused him to lose his passion for cooking – a passion which led him to running away from home at the age of 15. Roshan’s ex-wife Radha and son Armaan live in Kochi. His relationship with the latter is non-existent. He takes care of the child’s basic needs but hardly interacts with him. ‘Uski zimmedaariyan uthayi hain; god mein nahi uthaaya.’ A customer’s criticism of his food causes him to lose his cool and almost break the man’s nose, which ultimately costs him his job. Egged on by his friend and former colleague Vinnie, he decides to go and spend some time with the kid in Kochi, thus commencing a journey of self-discovery.
First up, kudos to production designer Anuradha Shetty for the great job she does with the food truck/bus. The “khataara” is decked up in a style similar to the All India permit-carrying trucks one sees on the highways, with some of the gibberish one finds on them.
Editor Shiv Kumar Panicker’s work is sufficient, though a bit of the audio in one scene seemed out of sync.
Raghu Dixit and Amaal Malik whip up an eclectic soundtrack. Dixit’s background is appropriate, but the songs are a lot of fun, especially Banjara, crooned by Vishal Dadlani, and Shugal Laga Le, which Dixit himself has sung. Amaal delivers the beautiful, sorrow-filled Tere Mere with vocals by brother Armaan. The lyricists Rashmi Virag and Ankur Tiwari do a lovely job with their kalams.
Cinematographer Priya Seth, who also shot Airlift, does a fabulous job. The simplicity in her shot-taking is what endears one to it, apart from the framing. The Padmapriya-Saif dance is especially well shot. The Harmandir Sahib and the gallis of Chandni Chowk and Amritsar are also shot in very well, though it is the landscape of God’s Own Country that really takes the cake.
Playing Radha’s “friend” is Milind Soman, that dude who makes women swoon and chaps grit their teeth. He is better than Robert Downey Jr., who has been playing variations of Tony Stark for too long now. For all of Soman’s screentime, my eighteen-year-old friend couldn’t shut up about how incredible he was. He does a pretty good job and it’s easy to say why Roshan is jealous of his ex-wife’s “friend”. Dinesh Nair as the reckless ex-Army driver of the bus is hilarious. His character Alex has also worked with the State Transport Corporation, something that is quite evident. Sobhita Dhulipala fills the shoes of Scarlett Johansson. Her work too is nice, though she’s there for barely four or five scenes. Chandan Roy Sanyal is his ever-reliable self. His character Nuzroon’s sense of loyalty towards Roshan is brought out in a lovely manner, as is the nature of their guru-chela relationship.
Padmapriya Janakiraman is beautiful, but credit to Menon for not focusing on that. Instead, her turn as an independent woman who has no qualms about calling out her ex-husband for his behaviour is a big step for Hindi cinema. Radha’s work defines her, not her relationship status, and Padmapriya plays her just that way. It is also the way in which she goes about her job that make you wish there were more characters like her in Hindi films.
Young Svar Kamble is really good as Armaan. His behaviour reminds me of the kids who are a few years younger than me and I seriously felt like giving him a couple of whacks. That’s how good he was. He also shared an incredible chemistry with Saif and there seemed to be a genuine feel to their relationship.
Saif Ali Khan was pretty good in Rangoon but he really enters his comfort zone here, and flourishes. This is his genre, a blend of drama and comedy. He was wasted in films like Bullett Raja and Humshakals. He is pretty good here. He seems to know his way around a kitchen for one and seems sorted enough in the cooking bits. The comical scenes are a credit to him because he takes the writing a notch higher. He is surprising in the more dramatic portions, especially the ones in which he loses his cool. He manages to bring out the frustration and pride of his character really well. And Saif does have this weird genuineness that he brings to his roles when he is doing well. The great thing he does is that he plays Roshan as a man whose made an ass of himself and finds himself in the frying pan. His chemistry with Svar is great, but it is also remarkable with Chandan and Padmapriya, with whom he has an odd, love-hate kind of thing going.
Writers Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair and Menon himself deliver a faithful adaptation. They stick to the source story, but also do their own thing. A few scenes here and there are the only thing that seem to have been transported from Favreau’s film. It does get a little sloppy, because we are never really told the middle part of Roshan’s story and what made him successful, and we never know why he couldn’t figure things out with Radha. Some of the problem-resolving is overly-simplistic and nags. Ritesh writes quirky dialogue, especially one in which Nuzroon, while explaining the concept of Tinder to Roshan, makes you realise what is wrong with Roshan, who speaks so much about the importance of relationships, and also about the current 16-30 age group, whose closest relationships are with their phones.
Raja Krishna Menon does a fine job in the director’s chair. I don’t know whether the slow and simmering nature of the first half was deliberately so, but it was nice to see a film that takes its time but doesn’t get boring. His equating of the run-down bus and Roshan, as well as the journey the bus takes and the one he does, is incredible. His treatment of the father-son relationship is great too, because we get to see the son being teased about his friend and the father speaking out against the use of slang. His depiction of an amicable relationship of a divorced couple is also refreshing. I do have one complaint that there is not quite enough food in the film. The rotza looks mouth-watering but Roshan makes pasta far too often and it would’ve been nice had Menon explored that area more. That and some of the writing apart, the film works quite well.
I enjoyed this Chef more than the original. That one just lost the plot towards the end. This is more genuine, more warm and is the best adaptation India has seen of another piece of work. A word of warning though – you may be disappointed with the lack of food, just the way I was. 8/10.
Up next on CINEPHILE STOCK: Zaira Wasim and Aamir Khan-starrer Secret Superstar on October 19.