Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal in The hundred foot journey based on a story adapted by Steven Knight from Richard C. Morais’ book by the same name. Many have described this as slumdog millionaire meets Ratatouille as some sort of a championing of the movie. While I agree with the slumdog bit I do completely disagree with the Ratatouille which was in my opinion a more earnest and honest movie and perhaps the best Pixar have ever managed.
The story starts with Hassan at the immigration counter answering the questions asked by the officer that also works as a backdrop of quickly rushing through the backstory to how Hassan came to be in “Europe” after having already landed in the United Kingdom after having sought asylum following the Hindu Muslim riots in Mumbai where he lost his mentor – his mom.
Back story done with we proceed to how they end up in the rustic French village with an abandoned villa/restaurant up for sale. This is the part where the movie is at its best as Om Puri the patriarch of the Kadam family digs his heels in to battle Madam Mallory played by the indomitable Helen Mirren the owner of the Michelin starred French restaurant.
There is a budding romance between Hassan and sous chef Marguerite which remains entirely unexplored. The culinary clash of the classical French and the boisterous Indian cuisines also is almost entirely forgotten except as an insult that Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam hurl at one another. The editing and the screenplay leave a lot to be desired. Basing my judgment on a book review of Morais’ original material there seems to be a lot more meat in the book than what is presented on the screen. The episodes in Hassan’s rise to the top of the Parisian culinary world seem to be rather abrupt at best and callous at worst. Take for instance the turn of events after Hassan earns the second Michelin star at Mallory’s restaurant he simply takes off for Paris because Marguerite says that he will be approached with offers. The despair Hassan feels while plating up pretentious food while in Paris seems unfounded and sudden and the decision to move back just as irrational. The frustration with the movie is because all the ingredients are present to plate up delectable dish that is as pleasing to the palate as it is appealing to the eyes but instead of gently whisking the yolks of the story on a bain-marie to form the perfect sabayon the director, the editor and the writers vigorously whisk it in the direct heat which ends up in a curdled mess. Another concern I have is with the research that has gone into this – Hassan and his family are presented as Muslims and yet the movie commits blasphemy by cooking the lamb in wine without any hesitation. I do not know if this is the lack of research on the part of the original book or another one of the blunders in the screenplay and direction.
There are some genuinely funny moments and some moments that hold promises but eventually what gets plated up is visually enticing but lacking the punch of garam masala and the restraint of the hollandaise. Watch it for a fine turn by Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal and for A.R. Rehman’s enticing background music.Also theres Juhi Chawla as lovely as ever playing Hassan’s mother – why isn’t she in more films is baffling to me.