I watched it! Even though I almost forgot it was even coming out this week. But I remembered last minute and rushed out to the theater and squeezed it in. And I guess I am glad I did?
The thing is, this whole time I was watching the movie thinking “this is such a great idea and an original scene and heart touching moment! But wait, is this an original moment or is this just from the original film?” I really really wish I’d watched the original first!
Because, the good parts of the movie, could have just come from that. The idea of a chef who traveled back to his home neighborhood, reconnected with his son, and just generally found himself again through going back to his roots and making simple food out of a truck. That’s all in the original, I think?
There is some stuff that must be new, the idea of New York versus India, of this cross-India journey that happens at one point, and the subtle bits of Indian culture (Delhi versus Kochi, etc.). But I think the heart of the film, that’s from the original. Which makes it hard to know where to give the credit. To Saif for buying the rights, to the director for respecting the original story, or for them creating something totally new? Heck, even down to Saif’s performance, I just don’t know! Something about how he is moving in this film, somehow it really really reminded me of Jon Favreau. Who I haven’t even seen in that many things, and yet Saif walked into a room and I thought “Jon Favreau!” But maybe I am imagining that? Maybe it is just in my head because I know it is a role that Jon originated?
But no matter what, I do have to give credit to Saif for picking out this story. Not just because it is a good story, but because it is good for him. He found a human level story to tell, that would work well in an Indian environment, and he also found a character that would work for him. Older, intelligent, a father, connected both to his Indian roots and to his international success. This is a great launch of Saif Ali Khan 2.0.
And I hope it is Saif Ali Khan 2.0! This film was a little rough around the edges (the ending in particular is rushed), but it is exactly the kind of film I want him to make. Mature character, small story, great non-famous cast surrounding him. I want to see him do more films like this, both as a producer and a star. I want to see everybody do more films like this, really, but Saif is especially well-suited for them. Experienced and famous and powerful enough to get them made, but not so big that he will over-shadow the intent of the film.
And not so big that he will over-shadow his co-stars either. Padmapriya Janakiraman gets some meaty scenes. And, more importantly, isn’t made into either the superficial villain or the perfect saint, the way ex-wives in films tend to be. She is a person who wants slightly different things than Saif does, but she can still learn from him just as he can learn from her.
Saif isn’t a superficial villain either! Yes he has to go on a journey of self-discovery and all of that, but he isn’t terrible to start with. Just has a ways to go to learn things.
No one in this movie is really terrible. They are all just trying and growing and learning as best they can. That’s the best part of the film.
The worst part of the film are just the little details of how it is put together. This is the stuff that makes me think the most that the “good stuff” came from the original, not the new filmmakers. Because the distinctly Indian touches to the film, the songs and the Interval, both fall flat. I have seen Airlift, and was very impressed by it, and I have also seen Argo, and was less impressed by that. Airlift was by Raja Krishna Menon, so I had faith that he knew how to take the spirit of an American film and turn it into something much more.
But in this movie, while the central idea is good, the songs feel forced and unnatural, whether it is a “spontaneous” dance in the dining room with his ex wife or a song with Raghu Dixit randomly in Goa, it just doesn’t seem like these are people that normally would be dancing. The film would be stronger without those sections entirely.
And the Interval is terrible! I am getting more and more used to “bad” intervals, ones that just spontaneously appear exactly halfway through the film, but this one is really bad. Because there is no natural middle to this film. It doesn’t have the 6 act structure an Indian film should have (opening, conflict, twist! re-opening, new conflict, conclusion), instead if feels like a simple 3 act western type film (opening, conflict, conclusion).
Of course, now that I think about it, the conclusion is kind of terrible too. Just like the interval felt like them saying “woops, halfway through, let’s freeze-frame!” the ending felt like “woops, out of money, let’s stop filming!” Only, before they started filming, they had to throw in the most ridiculous ending. I just wiki’d the original and it looks like it has a similar ending, only possibly less rushed. And with the most unbelievable part of it (to me) removed.
The sad thing is, the way the ending happens, all dramatic and stuff, is the part that feels the most “Indian”. But also the worst part of the film. I don’t think the dramatic stuff has to be bad, it just looks bad in comparison with the grounded stuff that is in the rest of the film. They should have done a better job mixing the two flavors. Oh oh! I have a pun! Which will probably be used by about a dozen other reviewers, but whatever, it still makes me happy: this is a failed attempt at fusion cuisine for movies.