Saif Ali Khan-starrer “Chef,” which released on October 7, is exactly what you’d want from a Bollywood film if you want to watch something that’s quirky, sweet and not your typical masala film. Though, in essence, this film is chock full of masala in that it’s a remake of 2014’s Jon Favreau culinary comedy of the same name. Director Raja Krishna Menon manages to retain the authenticity of the story but twists certain aspects to better suit Indian cinema and for the most part, it works, despite a few hiccups.
As the movie starts, we meet a young 15-year-old Roshan Kalra, an enthusiastic teenager who wants to be a chef. Cooking is his passion but naturally, his father doesn’t approve of this as a profession. Roshan is left with no choice so he runs away from home in hopes of learning from the cook of his favorite roadside cafe.
When we catch up with him next, Roshan is 41, and it looks like his passion for cooking has evaporated. He’s living in New York City and is the head chef of a trendy restaurant called Galli Kitchen but there’s something missing. After punching a customer who criticized his food, he’s fired from the job. We also learn he has a son Armaan, 10, who lives in Kochi, India with Radha, Roshan’s ex-wife.
He doesn’t really have anywhere to go so he decides to visit Ary for a few days and reconnect with him. In one of the nicer elements of the story, Roshan and Radha don’t share a tumultuous relationship post-divorce. In fact, they’re still good friends. He spends time bonding with his son, which includes going to a dance show he’s participated in, touring around the city, going on boat rides, and taking him to visit Punjab while reminiscing about his own childhood there. He also shares culinary tips galore.
Roshan meets Biju (Milind Soman, looking hella fine in traditional clothes and with a salt-and-pepper ‘do), assuming that he’s Radha’s new beau. Turns out, he wants Roshan to have an old and dilapidated double-decker bus to run as a mobile restaurant. Roshan is furious at the idea, assuming it to be charity from Biju and Radha, but after giving it some thought, he decides to actually pursue it.
Roshan, Ary, and Nazrul (his friend and apprentice from NYC) spend their time redoing the bus and transform it into Raasta Cafe, which turns out to be a success. In the process, Roshan rediscovers his love for food. Not just cooking it but actually creating new and unique recipes.
They take the bus on a ride across the country, gaining fame as they go along. Roshan hopes to make the food truck/restaurant a permanent fixture in Delhi because he’ll make more money there. His eventual goal is to sell it off and move back to the U.S., which means leaving Ary behind once again. This may happen sooner than they imagined because he gets a lucrative job offer from a restaurant in Manhattan.
“Chef” works mainly because of the power of Saif Ali Khan, the most underrated of the four main Khans of Bollywood. In this movie, he gets the chance to shine in every scene he’s in. From dramatic to humorous to arrogance to emotional, Khan showcases a great range of his skills. The other actors, especially Padmapriya Janakiraman as Radha and Svar Kamble as Ary, are really solid in the movie.
The thing that this movie has going for it is how different it seems from the Hindi films we get nowadays. There’s no sleazy item song to appease you, no star-studded cameos, no mindless humor or action. It’s just a good, relatable, and feel-good movie, which manages to captivate your attention for it’s 2-hour run.
One smart stand-out scene, however, is a sly callback to Khan’s “Dil Chahta Hai” character. The bus-restaurant makes a pit stop in Goa, where Roshan tells Nazrul about the time he visited the place with his two friends, fell in love with a firang who straight-up robbed him, referencing one of the more iconic and funny scenes of the 2001 hit.
This is not to say that “Chef” doesn’t have its problems. First, the movie is predictable, which is not surprising because it takes its blueprint from the Hollywood film. Even so, if things were done a little differently to add the element of wonder, it would’ve worked better.
Secondly, the editing is pretty choppy at times. The scenes move rapidly, not giving the audience the time to digest and understand what just happened or is happening.
Most importantly, from a movie titled “Chef,” you expect to leave the theater with your mouth watering from all the delicacies shown. While my movie popcorn tasted like trash when compared to all the delicious food showcased on the big screen, it wasn’t enough. There wasn’t nearly enough time spent on showing us Roshan’s actual cooking, which is a shame because showing him and the foods he creates would have shown the viewer the full breadth of passion Roshan has for his cooking.
Overall, the big pros easily overtake the small cons of the movie. “Chef” is a treat to watch. What can I say, I left the movie with a happy feeling and with Bollywood, it’s all you really need sometimes.