We watched this film because of my little sister and I am so thankful that we did. It was better than I hoped and is now added to the list of films with Indian food that will make you hungry. This one did, for all the family and it is a wonderful little movie with a lot going for it.
Samir works as a sous chef in a fancy New York restaurant and aspires to be the chef, since he is the one that gets the credit for the dishes. He quits when he finds out the job he was promised was given to someone else. His father Hakim gets a heart attack and Samir must take over the restaurant that is in fear of closing. With the help of a taxi driver named Akbar and Carrie, the woman who just arrived in his old job, help him along the way to make the restaurant popular again.
I’ve been a bit weary of westerners doing movies about India and Indian culture after watching so many Indian films. I couldn’t get past the 2 minute mark on Viceroy’s House (2017) and I haven’t yet watched Victoria and Abdul (2017) for the same reason. I just can’t take western representation of India seriously anymore because of the obviously filtered lens to western appeal and an image of India
This film though might just be the exception. It is loosely based on Aasif Mandvi’s play Sakina’s Restaurant and the films is clearly more interested in Indian culture in favour of sidelining the west, which I like. Though there are parts at the end when I think that it just a little bit dips its toe in to appealing to westerners with all the customers at the restaurant. From what I’ve read it is the colonial mindset that is still seeped in to India that for them to be successful they have to appeal to western taste and style, when it is much more braver to be fully yourself and not appeal to others. Then again I have never been to New York, nor am I a NRI. I am Finnish (white) who has travelled the world from a young age and I am aware how culturally mixed one can be. The film chooses a compromise, with Indian flavour and a western setting. A compromise I think many NRI’s choose to have, with western ideals and tactics, but still not away from their culture and heritage.
Now the acting is just a row of talent. Aasif Mandvi as Samir is our protagonist who is so normal that it makes us sympathise with him more than the usual heroes and protagonists one gets in these types of stories. He makes mistakes, but is also aware when he must just listen and learn. He is not a stereotype of an Indian or an NRI or a Muslim, he is all of those things, but he also has a complicated story that is sown throughout the film beautifully.
Naseeruddin Shah as Akbar, the a little bit magical and very interesting cab driver whom Samir meets. Shah is a class act of an actor in any movie and he never veers in to the stereotype of a Guru. He is a man who has gone through a lot of journey’s worth their own movie and keeps on making the best of life and helping others, no doubt because he knows what it is like to be without help. In every scene he is in the film turns in to something much greater and the film is worth the watch just for his performance.
Harish Patel as Hakim, Samir’s father starts off like the typical Indian father until he is gotten out of the picture for a while with his heart attack. He learns slowly, but is none-the-less a sympathetic and funny character. Patel himself has been in many films ranging from Indian art house films like Zubeidaa (2001) to popular crowd pleasers like Mr India (1983) and Gubt: The Hidden Truth (1997) with some work in the west in between.
The films highlight is truly Madhut Jaffrey as Farrida, Samir’s mother who cherishes him and who loves her husband and is not afraid to talk back to him in her own not so subtle way. Jaffrey has had a history with working in the west, being in many Merchant-Ivory films as well as being a writer and a cook. She is a woman of many talents and her showcase of both comic timing and motherly warmth make the film a treat to watch.
Jess Weixler as Carrie, Samir’s love interest and fellow chef, gets the short end of the stick character wise, but she more than makes up for it with her chemistry with Mandhvi. Her character is a little bit of mystery, but we feel like we know her already with her interactions with Samir. She is thankfully not a stereotype of a western woman in an Indian setting. Her and Samir’s relationship is one done so naturally that she grows on you just like she did with Samir.
The music used in the film that is mostly silent, letting the characters and the situations flow without prompting and thus makes it very important narratively. I was happy that I recognised most of it when watching the movie.
Most of the music and the films shown are form the late 1960s to 1970s with a little stop at Shree 420 (1955), which is a brilliant choice because that is when Hindi film came in to its own. It is a time and place of movie making as well as growing up culturally with those movies, which the older men in the movie watch.
Songs are meant to convey a feeling and you know it when you hear it even if you are a westerner. The first song is about Samir coming culturally touched when he meets Akbar, the second is what the waiter watches on his free time, all fun and happy and the third is every time the masala flavours are made. Its brilliant filmmaking on a cultural level as well since the Indians watching this will know the songs and relate to them with as much nostalgia as Samir does with Indian Cuisine.
This film a good small movie with its natural with a hint of a magical realism style of filmmaking. There are musicians who appear suddenly, one regular customer looks like he might have been in a circus in his youth, the way Carrie and Samir meet is one done naturally, but it doesn’t loose its impact for it. New York itself is shown as an imperfect city filled with people of all backgrounds. It is not a magical place, the people there themselves are magical no matter where they come from. So treat yourself and your family to this movie for a good look at Indian cuisine and just a brilliant story that doesn’t seem like a story, but more of a journey looking in to the life of Samir and his life. Just remember to eat before watching this, because you will be hungry afterwards!
Thank you for reading!