Jon Favreau’s 2014 “Chef” was a middling film about a portly chef who finds his real goals in life after a disastrous social media showdown with a noted critic. Despite well-lit shots of steak and dessert, and with a father-son bonding story thrown in, it was never sweet enough to work.
But given new India’s obsession with food and eating out, this might have been a good remake, if only director Raja Krishna Menon hadn’t forgotten to add the spice. The Hindi “Chef” is as one-toned and as predictable as the original. For a film that purports to be about food, there is little more than a passing interest demonstrated.
Instead, the focus is on Roshan Kalra, a chef who is fired from his job in an Indian restaurant after he punches a customer (something Saif Ali Khan was accused of doing in real life). Roshan returns home to India from New York to see his pre-teen son Armaan (Svar Kamble) and ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya), who live in a picturesque, old-world bungalow in Kochi. There, Roshan re-discovers his relationship with his son and with food.
When Biju (Milind Soman), Radha’s friend, offers him a chance to overhaul an old double-decker bus and start running a restaurant, he reluctantly takes up the offer. A former colleague from New York joins him, and it turns into one merry road trip across India, serving “fusion” Indian food along the way. Alas, this fusion food, like much else in the film, is boring. Take, for example, the “rotzaa”, or a pizza fashioned out of that staple Indian flatbread, the roti - something a thousand Indian restaurants have on their menus.
This “rotzaa” is symptomatic of the approach “Chef” takes – it makes no attempt transcend or improve on the original film. For someone with a Michelin star, Roshan seems to have just one kind of pasta dish and the “rotzaa” in his repertoire. The film is full of food clichés like “chhole bhature” from Delhi and “puttu” (steamed rice noodles) from Kerala, and full of relationship clichés like the father bonding with the son.
To their credit, Saif Ali Khan and debutant Svar Kamble are comfortable in their characters. But Roshan’s relationship with his ex-wife is handled haphazardly. Biju is first shown as a threat, then disappears completely, and Radha flits in and out of the screenplay like she isn’t sure how she fits.
The end plays out as you thought it would. The original “Chef” at least made a comment on the food cart phenomenon in the United States, but there is no such phenomenon in India. Neither the food nor the emotions in this remake satisfy.