Banners: T-Series, Abundantia Entertainment, Bandra West Pictures
Producers: Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Raja Krishna Menon, Vikram Malhotra, Janani Ravichandran
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Milind Soman, Shobhita Dhulipala, Dinesh Prabhakar
Writers: Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, Raja Krishna Menon
Music: Raghu Dixit, Amaal Mallik
Hollywood remakes have always been tricky. Indian audiences become super critical when Bollywood picks up an international film and tries to render an Indianised version of it. There are often complaints of over-dramatization, unnecessary songs and failure to find the right actors for popular characters. However, director Raja Krishna Menon, who had to hold on to his reputation after making Airlift, owned the onus like a champ. His official remake of Jon Favreau’s Chef isn’t as ground breaking as his last directorial, but it is a pleasant surprise for all.
After giving one debacle after another, expectations from Saif Ali Khan were very low. But thanks to the simple yet well written script, he comes off stronger than he has in years.
The premise of the film is similar to its original inspiration. Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan), a Chandni Chowk runaway kid is now the head chef at a Michelin 3-star Indian restaurant in New York. After an altercation, he gets fired and decides to visit his son Armaan (Svar Kamble) who lives with his ex-wife Radha Menon (Padmapriya Janakiraman) in Kochi. Discovering a new side of himself while bonding with his son and his former love there, he decides to develop a business of rehabilitating an old bus into a mobile restaurant serving innovative dishes. How he accomplishes this feat while experiencing a journey on the road with his son and how it helps him realise what he wants in his life, forms the crux of the film.
It is rare that a film today stays balanced and interesting in both halves. Chef is one of them. The first half quickly defines the premise and jumps from one scene to another quite literally. We see Roshan go from New York City to Kochi in just one flip of a scene and taking his son from there to Delhi in another wink. The latter turn so quickly that it takes a second to realize that they have actually travelled to a different city altogether. The second half is a surprise as it is more interesting than the first. With stronger one-liners and a lot of zest shown on the screen, it flows more effortlessly than before.
This is one of the few Hollywood adaptations that has been seamlessly transformed into a Bollywood film without things looking out of place. Writers Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair and Menon himself did try to go for a stellar screenplay but the dialogues make it fall short of excellence. While the lines spoken by the characters are not out of place, they do seem a little stale at times, especially when Khan’s character Roshan is giving life advice to his son Armaan. Even the PJs, that are supposed to get a laugh out of the audience, are delivered so flatly that you can do nothing but roll your eyes. A special shout for the hilarious and subtle Dil Chahta Hai joke by Khan that was just perfectly timed and executed.
In today’s times, where there isn’t a box office guarantee for any kind of movie, it was daring of Menon to make a lighthearted, slice-of-life film. He not only got the best out of his central character played by Khan but also from the other players. From Airlift, we know that Menon has a knack to pick a perfect supporting cast that stands true to their name. In Chef too, the director has made sure that all the smaller roles are significant enough to support the main one.
Another major advantage is the beautiful cinematography of the film. Be it the grandeur of Kerala’s backwaters, the hustle bustle of New York, the serenity of the Golden Temple or the joy emitting from a road trip, everything is captured quite well. Speaking of being captivated, the shots of deliciously prepared food will leave you wanting something fancier than the regular samosas and popcorn during
The flaws of the film are in the dips in the story that take you to borderline boredom for a few seconds before gradually bringing you back into the moment. Also, you wonder how a Michelin starred chef is suddenly okay with opening a local restaurant in a small town. It is not totally improbable on a plausibility scale, but does make the premise a tad far-reaching. Further, while some songs are well placed and flow with the narrative in the background, a few do seem to obstruct the story like Khoya khoya and the somewhat forced love song Darmiyaan.
Performance-wise, Chef might not be the saving grace Saif Ali Khan needs right now but it is definitely a good start. Padmapriya’s no-nonsense acting is good. Svar Kamble is also decent in his role. Chandan Roy Sanyal is fantastic and adds the fun elements in the second half. Milind Soman’s cameo is a good-looking surprise. Shobhita Dhulipala is okay. Dinesh Prabhakar is superb.
Verdict: A decent film that will find it tough to survive for long at the ticket counter.