Chef Review (SPOILERS): They Didn’t Know How to End It

No Spoilers review went up last night, and this is a good pleasant enjoyable film, so you shouldn’t necessarily read the spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet.  But on the other hand, most of the plot is kind of given in the trailer, so maybe it doesn’t matter as much?

Whole Plot Very Quickly:

Saif is the head chef at a successful New York restaurant.  A (white) customer criticizes his food and Saif punches him.  He is arrested, his boss bails him out then tries to force him to take a vacation.  Saif refuses, shows up for work the next day angry, and is fired.  He goes to Kerala where his ex-wife and son live.  He spends time with his son and eventually is offered an old double-decker bus by his wife’s boyfriend, and with his son’s help, and the help of his faithful cooking assistant, they turn it into a food truck/mobile restaurant.  He struggles with his relationship with his son, and with his own father.  In the end, he and his son take off for the last few days of his son’s school vacation to drive the truck cross-country from Kochi to Delhi.  They land in Delhi and his ex-wife arrives to take their son back home.  Saif says good-bye, then has a last minute change of heart and runs after them, catching their car in traffic, and makes a passionate plea for them to stay and give him another chance.  And that’s the end?

 

Before getting into the “real” discussion, there is one small thing I found kind of fun.  Sort of.  The reason Saif loses his job and has his breakdown and leaves his because he punches a customer and gets arrested.  Which is exactly what happened to him in real life!  That scuffle at the Taj a few years back.  And I think that is a change from the original film, a nice little nod to the star’s real life identity melding with the character.

Okay, now real discussion!  I’m going to start at the end.  Because that’s where it really goes bad.  What is this ending exactly?  We don’t even know if he is making this passionate plea for his wife to come back to him, or his son.  And is he asking them to stay with him in Delhi forever, or just temporarily?  Kind of seems like he is the more mobile one, with his restaurant truck, versus her with her huge very nice house and dance school.

And then we see that same night his father, who never understood or appreciated him, who always had a strained relationship, showing up at his food truck and proudly calling him a “chef”.  Where did THAT come from?

Especially because, until now, the Saif and his father relationship was one of the best drawn in the film.  It made total sense to me.  Saif ran away when he was 15, because his father would not let him study cooking.  He survived on his own and went on to success.  And when we see him visiting his father years and years later, it is not overly dramatic or heartbreaking or any of that.  It’s just sort of settled.  His father clearly knows some loose details of his life, just as he knows some details of his father’s life.  We can fill in that his mother or other relatives must have served as a bridge over the gap, certainly it seems as though Saif had returned at least once before, his father recognized him and vice versa.  There was no shock at knowing that he had a grandson, or even what the grandson looked like.  But they still couldn’t spend any time together without pain rising up between them.  This is an okay kind father-son separation that we don’t really get to see in films, Indian or otherwise.  It doesn’t have to be “fixed”, sometimes this is as good as it is going to be.  You swallow your pain and try to be happy with the little you can manage.

And then with no explanation or build up whatsoever, his father shows up at his outdoor restaurant food truck at the very end of the film and proudly calls him a “chef”.  How?  Why?  They could have maybe put in a scene showing the neighbors talking about Saif, or a news reporter, explaining that he is powerful and respected and so on.  Interviews with people who trained under him, with his ex-employer, something.  Instead of the father just magically showing up, after having been forgotten for the last hour and a half of the movie.

I have kind of the same problem with his ex-wife.  Padmapriya is wonderful in the role and I like them together.  But they never really sell me on the passion that drove them apart, or brought them together.  They are calm and happy as exes, Saif charms her and makes her smile, which makes me think she is over him.  She is no longer bothering to resist because there is nothing to resist, she knows he is charming and all of that but he is not what she wants.

The “other man” is set up as the anti-Saif because he is tall and handsome and smooth and worldly and wealthy.  But that is too simple, there are little clues in the film that it isn’t just his tall handsome worldliness that Padmapriya finds appealing, it is that he is there, he spends time with her son, he is responsible and reliable.  The tall and handsome part, that we can believe Saif would overcome, he is charming and they have a history.  But the reliable part, they don’t really sell me on that.  If that is the reason that Padmapriya left him, and is staying away, that he fully overcame it now in a way that would win her back.  Sure, he sticks around for a few weeks and seems to have made over his life, but would that overcome years of neglect?

I am focusing on how things end because that is the only area that I have any major complaints.  There are a few slightly slow bits in the middle, conversations that felt like they could have ended more quickly.  The songs feel a little forced, as I mentioned in my last review.  But over all the performances are top notch, the characters feel real, and the setting is gorgeous!

The setting and what comes with it is the best part of the film, I think.  Going all the way back to Saif’s decision to leave New York.  His boss at his restaurant is a fellow Indian, and the firing isn’t a petty mean thing, he is trying to help.  He sees that Saif is drowning where he is now, that he has lost something.  His friend/assistant in New York sees the same thing and tells him to go home and restore himself.  There’s something there about India, and Indians abroad, and needing to feel that identity inside, which is very interesting.

And in the end, that is what makes the difference.  It’s not just bonding with his son, it’s telling his son his life story and thereby remembering his life.  Growing up in the streets of Delhi eating street food, hiding out at the Golden Temple and enjoying their free food, working in the kitchen of a Dhaba while he learned how to cook, and then enjoying as a young man at training college in Goa.  And yes, there is a Dil Chahta Hai joke “20 years ago I was in Goa with 2 friends, met a beautiful white woman, and she robbed me and left me tied up!”

That’s why it has to be a mobile bus they use as a restaurant.  So it can travel the length and breadth of India, can somehow tie the whole country together and tie together Saif’s soul at the same time, return him to where he was meant to be.

That should have been the ending, Saif realizing he has to stay in India, not take the new job offer back in New York.  And that, in addition, he has to stay in his son’s life, not disappear again.  That was the drive of most of the movie, Saif’s own rediscovery of himself.  Taking on this family and romantic reunion, it kind of retroactively destroyed what had come before.  Not entirely, the film is still a pleasant watch, but a little bit.

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12 thoughts on “Chef Review (SPOILERS): They Didn’t Know How to End It

  1. I don’t know where to post this and this review has no comments so I’m just gonna say this here. Naga Chaitanya and Samantha got married yesterday in Goa! 🙂 ❤ 🙂

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  3. The only thing I remember about the original Chef is that he’s clueless about social media and inadvertently made a private conversation public.That and the cursing.All the time.The man rarely spoke without a four letter world.Is Saif’s Chef similar?And you’ve seen Padmapriya before.In Mammotty’s Pazahassi Raja as the tribal guerrilla fighter woman.

    The other man is Milind Soman, heartthrob of the 90s.Check out

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    • I think they changed the cursing/social media in an interesting way. They turned it into suddenly losing his temper and punching a guy. Which is of course a real life story of Saif’s. There is a brief remark about him not realizing the video of the punch would go online, but it’s not like a big plot point.

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      • Actually his notoreity-via-viral-video is carried through the film. At various points in the film, in Kerala, Goa, and Delhi, ppl recognize him because of the video, want selfies with him, want to come to his food truck, etc.

        It’s really cool and fun how the son fully employs the “pop-up food truck” concept by tweeting and instagramming the bus location, journey, food, and crowds, and gathering a following that way.

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  4. I’m a little confused. I saw the Original Chef film and liked it. So I was very much looking forward to seeing this movie. However, the film did not open in the Savannah, Georgia (USA) area, so I will have to wait for the DVD.

    In the original film, his food truck became a success doing huge business with lines around the block. Your point is that the the Chef (Saif) has his father turn up and call him Chef. And this seemed surprising. Was Saif’s bus turned food truck not doing big business?

    If it wasn’t then I understand your point. But isn’t the success of the food truck at the heart of the story? It should lead to his maturation as a man, make him a better father, and lead to his reconciliation with his own father.

    By the way Saif’s Chef had a disastrous opening weekend here in the states and Canada. Which was surprising. The film opened at 64 theaters and averaged just under $900 per theater for the three day weekend (OCT 6-8). That’s $300 a day per theater and this also means between 40 and 50 people a day/ Even if they had just one or two screenings a day rather than 4 or 5, It is still a poor showing.

    My belief is that the producers don’t allot any money at all for publicity i North America – even if they just concentrated on areas with large Indian populations like, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver, as well as Chicago, and or LA, they might do better.

    I’d really be interested in your comments as to why so few Indian films make so little money in North America.

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    • Thanks for commenting!

      The ending of this film is confusing because, first, Saif’s food truck is not a huge success, not on that level. It is doing well, but they don’t fully sell it as a massive impressive achievement of the kind that would win over his father. And second, his father had remained determined that he was “only” a cook while he was in New York running a fancy restaurant, so I am a little confused as to why selling street food in Delhi is what causes him to respect his son. Really, it is an easy fix, if we had seen his father watching news reports explaining more about his son’s career and why he is so impressive and so on, I could have bought the transition. It was just too sudden based on what we saw.

      I’ll be going into the box office details today, as I do every Tuesday, I will be very interested to see what they reveal!

      On Mon, Oct 9, 2017 at 11:55 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I am from the USA, but I never heard of the original Chef movie before. I saw this Chef remake last night. I agree that the ending was tacked on, and that your suggested ending would have fit the presented story better. But it didn’t ruin the movie for me, because the movie’s journey was satisfying enough that the destination didn’t matter so long as that destination was uplifting. But a better ending would have elevated the movie.

    It is refreshing to see bollywood make a movie where there is no villain. Just man vs himself, how a classic antihero becomes a hero.

    I really liked the natural acting style of the wife and especially of the son – rare to see a child actor who doesn’t ham and mug in a BW film. And Saif matched their subtlety.

    ITA with everything you said about the Saif & his dad strained relationship. Refreshing to see in a BW movie.

    There’s a certain vibe, or cinematic language, to this movie that makes it feel more Hollywood than Bollywood. It answers this question: what if Disney were to remake Chef as a family-friendly NRI film set in India? The background score also added to the Disney production feel, with its genetically upbeat “ethnic” sound that could interchangeably represent south Asia, the middle east, or Africa.

    I took a Malayali NRI friend with me to see this film. He knows nothing about Malayali cinema (hence he wasn’t interested in seeing Solo, which had been my first choice), but he likes Saif and liked the Chef trailer. His 3 biggest shocks – Milind Soman, “how many days in a row are these Desis gonna eat pasta??”, and that the wife wasn’t just estranged but an actual EXwife.

    Maybe the Indian audience isn’t ready for a movie where divorced exes don’t reunite but aren’t bitter/angry/cut-off either, especially if the wife left the husband for a problem that the husband now recognizes and is addressing. Plus the patriarchal notion that if a woman leaves, it means that the relationship needs fixing, but if the man leaves, it means that the relationship is over. I unfortunately know several NRI men who “haven’t given up hope” on their exwives-who-left-them, thinking there is more they can do to make their exes come back.

    Saif is in a strange space where he alone isn’t the draw for a movie. Its either the pairing (saif preity, saif deepika) or a multi starrer (race, omkara, dch, khnh). But Saif’s career is as long as the khans, akumar, and adevgan, so maybe the audience isn’t interested in Saif alone helming a film at this point. Like BkB or SMS, maybe the film would have better box office with a lesser known actor. But if you choose a lesser known middle aged actor, he inherently has a track record which shapes the way the audience accepts him, or if he’s new, it becomes an indie film. If Milind Soman had the lead, it would be an indie film. Maybe irrfan khan would have worked… see Hindi medium.

    But Saif is tailor-made for the role and visa versa, so for his branding the movie was right. But I’m not sure there is an audience for that brand. Do Indians even want to see stories about middle aged men and their personal crises? They also rejected JHMS. They seem to only want middle age men at the helm if it’s a thriller, or about crime or politics.

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    • Interesting thoughts, both about the theme of “you leaving just means I have to work harder/my leaving means it’s over”, that had never occurred to me before! And the issue of a middle-aged actor who is not weighted down by the history of his career would be hard to find.

      On Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 11:14 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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