12-18 December 2014 #736

The Hundred- Foot Journey

A charming film about how the love of food can overcome many boundaries.
Sophia Pande

What would life be without a few guilty pleasures? Mine this week was The Hundred-Foot Journey, a film by the prolific Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who in the past has made the hugely enjoyable Cider House Rules (1999), Chocolat (2000), and my personal favourite Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011).

This year, with The Hundred-Foot Journey Hallström continues in the tradition of Chocolat, making a film about how the love of food can overcome many boundaries, in particular, the fear of the outsider. Both films are set in charming little French villages that harbour suspicion against anyone who hasn’t lived in the vicinity for generations.

In the case of Chocolat it is Juliette Binoche’s character Vianne Rocher, a wandering chocolate maker with a magic touch, who is initially ostracised from the closed off community. In The Hundred-Foot Journey the stigma is much more troubling, for it is a Muslim family out of Mumbai, seeking asylum in Europe after their restaurant gets burnt down in a riot, that faces the startled, wary eyes of a seemingly idyllic town.

Papa Kadam (the wonderful Om Puri) is the head of a family of five amongst which one, Hassan (Manish Dayal), is one of the most talented cooks of his generation. Trained to cook traditional Indian recipes by his mother (played by Juhi Chawla) who died in the fire, it is on his skills that the Kadam family confidently rests their hopes. When the brakes of their ancient van fail just next to the said French village, Papa Kadam decides to settle there, unilaterally making a decision on behalf of the family when he sees a “For Sale” sign infront of a charming but rundown restaurant.

Unfortunately, this restaurant is exactly a hundred feet away from “Le Saule Pleureur” (“The Weeping Willow”) – a restaurant with one Michelin star (three stars signaling the zenith of culinary excellence) owned by the widowed Madame Mallory (the brilliant and feisty Helen Mirren) who has it in for the Kadam family the moment they step foot in the village.

As the Kadams open “Maison Mumbai” war breaks out between Papa Kadam and Madam Mallory as they fight over fresh produce, noise pollution, and even the vaccination of live poultry. The film’s light-hearted moments are punctuated with real concerns over racism, and while some of these issues are glossed over, the makers’ intentions and ethics are in the right place.

The film’s real charm, though, rests in the chemistry between Om Puri and Helen Mirren, veterans of their field who have perfected the art of having a twinkle in their eye even while dealing with difficult material. You will fall in love with these crotchety characters; their sparring is what makes the film extraordinary.

Watch Trailer:

Read also:

An Evergreen Revolution

Mumbai's shame

Bollywooding in Nepal

Sikkim to Mumbai

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