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.