The lead actor tells The National how Jon Favreau’s film has been given the Bollywood treatment
Saif Ali Khan: the desi spin on Chef is all heart
One of the more intriguing pieces of Bollywood news last year was the announcement that the 2014 American film Chef was set to receive a Hindi remake.
One wondered how the small independent film, which is a celebration of the North American food-truck culture, would be adapted into a big Bollywood feature.
Fortunately, while the film does boast A-lister Saif Ali Khan as the lead, the desi adaptation retains the charm of the original, albeit with a few necessary tweaks that come with setting the film in various Indian cities.
Khan plays the role of Roshan Kalra, a firebrand chef dismissed from an Indian restaurant based in New York after serving a surly customer a right hook following a complaint regarding his dish. Dejected and bereft of inspiration, Roshan travels to Kerala, where he reunites with his young son and ex-wife, and reluctantly begins a food truck to revive his passion.
This is essentially where the similarities with the original film ends stated Khan during last week’s promotional tour in Dubai. He explains the difference between Roshan and Carl, the central character played by Jon Favreau in the original: “His character starts a food truck to follow his true passion and dreams. But my character Roshan has no option. He leaves the country burnt out and with very few available options,” he says.
“India also presents itself as the most scenic culinary landscape with a very diverse palette across the country. I play a man from the north with an ex-wife and a child in Kerala in the south. Through the contrast of part of the film being shot in Kerala, and other parts in the north of India in cities like Amritsar, we were really able to highlight this. The movie truly encapsulates a culinary journey through Indian cities, exploring a variety of indigenous food and cultures.”
We follow the father-son duo as they travel through the lush river state of Kerala, the beaches of Goa and the busy streets of Delhi, as they sample various dishes including chole bhature (a Punjabi speciality dish of spicy chickpeas served with fried bread made from soft wheat, along with onions and pickle); idiyappam (a southern Indian side made with rice flour in the form of steamed noodles and served with curries); Goan-style fried fish and old-fashioned tomato chutney. The result of the reconnaissance is the food truck’s signature dish, dubbed rotzza, which features various pan-grilled fillings between two rotis (flatbreads).
While the cooking – shot by director Raja Krishna Menon – is bound to stir the stomach, Chef actually aims for the heart. The film revolves around Roshan’s relationships with his son and father – both strained by years of rejection and unfulfilled expectations.
A father of three, Khan says it is no longer feasible for parents to plot the career path of their children. “You can have hopes and dreams for your children, but at the end of the day, it is about encouraging them to do what it is they are the most passionate about and supporting them in that decision; that is the most important thing,” he says. “I believe that you could be a bad chef or a bad actor, but you do not have an option to be a bad father. For me, my children have their freedom to choose their careers as long as they prioritise being good human beings and are authentic to themselves first.”
Where the original Chef featured a rollicking Latin soundtrack complementing the Cuban-inspired cuisine, so is the case with the new version, which boasts songs that are more traditional than straight-out pop. The Goan beachside scene, featuring a performance by the popular Indian folk singer Raghu Dixit, is as close as the film comes to a dance sequence.
“Music is a character in our film. We wanted an organic sound and so we decided to record every instrument live. There are no samples in this film,” says Khan. “The background music was as important to me as the songs, and so we took great care with it. I think we have at least five melodies in the background music that could’ve been songs. We used a lot of local instrumentation to bring out the flavour of the film.”
Speaking to The National before Chef’s poor domestic box-office opening day of 10.5 million rupees (Dh589,000), Khan states that he is not too concerned about the rate of high-profile Bollywood flops this year, which included Salman’s Khan’s Tubelight and Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal. He says filmgoers will always gravitate more towards well-made films with fresh content.
With over two decades in the business, the 47-year-old Khan maintains that he is satisfied with the overall state of the Bollywood film industry.
“There is a new generation of smart and very talented actors who are also paving the way into Hollywood and strong roles in television both here and the West,” he says. “Also, more actors in their late 40s and 50s are finally getting comfortable playing age-appropriate roles. I think the days of middle-aged actors prancing around trees pretending to be 25 years old are thankfully past us.”
Chef is out now in UAE cinemas