Helen Mirren in a still from The 100-Foot Journey. (AP Photo)
Film: The Hundred Foot Journey Direction: Lasse Hallstrom Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon Rating: 2.5
You know the feeling when you read the ingredients on a menu and think, oh, that sounds exciting. But when it arrives, it’s underwhelming, and just not an inventive as you’d imagined it’d be. The Hundred Foot Journey – about the fairy-tale-ish career of a chef – is a lot like that.
On paper, it has a lot going for it. It’s based on a cute and popular novel, director Lasse Hallstrom has a reputation for adapting cute and popular novels, it’s backed by heavyweight producer Steven Spielberg, and the casting is a fantasy come true – Om Puri alongside Helen Mirren.
But innovation – a word characters in the movie keeps stressing on, in context to cooking – is just as important in cinema as it is in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Unfortunately, Chef Hallstrom serves up a dish that’s rather predictable. "Food is memory," the protagonist Hassan (Manish Dayal) says. Hundred Foot…, unfortunately, reminds of an older Hallstrom film – Chocolat.
The setting, again, is a postcard-pretty French village. This time, it’s not chocolate that stirs things up, but the spice-heavy food made by a stereotypically raucous and colourful Indian family.
Papa Kadam (Puri), after a nomadic drive through Europe with family in tow, sets up a restaurant a hundred feet across the road from Madame Mallory’s (Mirren) one-Michelin-star restaurant.
If the film had focused on the cultural friction, it might have amounted to something. But the conflict is glossed over, or generalised. Hallstrom’s film, as indeed Richard Morais’s bestseller, chooses instead to focus on the meteoric (and incredibly simplistic) rise of Hassan as a chef, from Papa Kadam’s kitchen to that of Mallory’s, to a chic Paris restaurant where food is all molecular gastronomy mumbo-jumbo. Hassan, in effect, is the Sachin Tendulkar of the culinary world, who struggles even less than the Master Blaster.
Yet, The Hundred Foot… is worth watching, if only for the chemistry between Puri and Mirren. He’s the boisterousness to her frigidity, the spice to her sugar. Yes, they represent clichés – the uninhibited Orient versus the measured Occident. But they do it so remarkably well, you don’t mind it one bit. Hallstrom and Spielberg deserve credit for bringing together such spectacular acting talent.
Pretty boy Hassan and his equally pretty love interest – sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) share a more tepid romance, in comparison.
The film is spectacularly well shot, as indeed, are most of the director’s previous works. A scene that’s all knives, serious faces and fish heads being chopped off has the mood of a culinary battlefield, bordering on pastiche.
It’s not the elements, but the overall execution where the film suffers. Predictability aside, it would have done well to completely discard, or truncate, most of the post-interval storyline.
Unfortunately, it’s like a meal that drags with a few courses too many, with more misses than hits.