Chopsticks Review (SPOILERS): A Little Fable of a Girl and a Guy and a Goat

What a very pleasant little movie! Not a perfect movie, not a deep movie, not even that involving of a movie much of the time. But very very pleasant.

Whole plot in one paragraph:

Mithila is in hospitality at Taj Lands’ End, thanks to her skill as a Chinese translator. But she is lower class and doesn’t fit in with her job or the city, very sweet and naive. She buys her first car, and that same day innocently gives it to a valet to park at the temple and of course it is stolen. The police are unhelpful, but a stranger at the police station gives her the name and number of Abhay Deol and says he might be able to help. Mithila goes to meet Abhay who is a mysterious figure in a falling down building. He agrees to help and takes her to meet his connection among the beggars to help find her car. They track the car to a chop shop, but Mithila is heartbroken to discover it has already been chopped up. And then she sees a photo of Vijay Raaz in the paper in front of her car (with his pet fighting goat) and realizes they were at the wrong chop shop and her car is okay. She goes to Abhay and insists he help her again. He reluctantly agrees. They kidnap the goat from Vijay and demand the car in ransom. Vijay learns who they are by threatening the beggar connection and Abhay realizes they are in danger. Abhay tells Mithila to leave town and goes to offer himself to Vijay instead. But Mithila shows up, with the goat, and sincerely apologizes to Vijay and explains that she didn’t realize how much he loved his goat. Vijay lets her and Abhay go and gives her the car back. At the end, Mithila with her new confidence impresses her boss at work, and Abhay goes on the TV cooking competition he has been practicing for, and Vijay is happy with his goat.

Chopsticks | Netflix Official Site

What makes the film work is Mithila’s character. She is really unique. Not incapable, she lives alone and seems to be more or less good at her job, and definitely not stupid. But very very simple. She believes whatever people tell her and takes it at face value. She always tells the truth. She has no guile. It’s a similar character to Kangana’s in Queen, and it is a uniquely female kind of character. If you are raised as a sheltered young woman, taught by your parents to be obedient and trusting at the same time they protect you from anything nasty in the world, then you go out into the world with dangerous innocence. I guess that is what Mithila is most of all, “innocent”.

Mithila’s character growth has to follow a careful line in this film. You don’t want her to lose her innocence, you don’t want her to turn into a cynic like everyone else. But she also has to gain some sort of protection, some sort of ability to function in the world, because right now she is getting her car stolen and feeling bad because her coworkers make fun of her at work. And the film manages it! Her innocence and trust in the world ends up growing instead of shrinking. She trusts herself, she trusts her clients at work to like her as she is, she trusts Vijay to give her back the car just because it is the right thing to do. She made mistakes at the start, but they were her mistakes, the solution isn’t to turn into someone else just to avoid mistakes.

The little bit we see her with her work clients shows that perfectly. At first she gets in trouble because she says sincerely to her Chinese tour clients something about Chinese knock offs. The solution seems to be less honest and less herself. But then at the end we see her talking to her Chinese clients and charming them by suggesting that they eat with their hands instead of chopsticks. That’s what the title of the movie is about, Mithila thinks she has to succeed by learning to use something artificial to her, chopsticks or distrusting people, but instead she succeeds by embracing herself, being sincere and believing the best of people and using her hands to eat.

So, Mithila is great. And then there is Abhay and Vijay lined up behind her to show her own journey reflected in theirs. Both Abhay and Vijay start out being distrustful and not innocent. Abhay is a thief and a lonely man. Vijay loves his goat but nothing else. Abhay helps Mithila because he can’t resist her innocence and there is that instinct to protect her. He tries to turn her towards himself, to make her ready to take on the world. But instead he teaches her to be fearless and follow her instincts. Vijay seems to be a scary threat to them, but Mithila sees the other side, realizes that threat comes from Vijay’s innocence love for his pet goat.

I can see what they were going for with Abhay and Vijay, but it just wasn’t quite good enough. Abhay is this powerful mysterious figure, very cool, very sexy. But there just isn’t quite enough there. We have no backstory for him, we have no real sense of his feelings beyond a vague care for Mithila. And Vijay, we have even less. He seems a completely cruel character. In theory his humanism comes through in his love for his goat, but in practice it is a goat after all. It’s not the best screen partner, Vijay is kind of empty by himself. I end up just not being interested in Vijay or Abhay, which is a problem because they are onscreen a lot.

That’s the weakest part of the film, for me. Abhay and Vijay just don’t make me care about them as much as Mithila. Well, and the other part, Mithila just doesn’t care about them that much. This could be the traditional triangle structure, protagonist, love interest, and villain. But I’m not feeling the Abhay-Mithila chemistry really, and Vijay is sort of off by himself and not feeling that big of an antagonist either. It’s really two separate issues. From the Abhay side, he is simply too old for Mithila, and he feels too old for her. I enjoy them as friends, but I can’t make myself think of them as a romance. From the Vijay side, he should be the anti-Mithila to make the whole “villain” idea work, but instead the more natural antagonists feel like her snotty co-workers and mean boss. Mithila is the center of the film, and the other two leads who should be formed around her, instead feel separated.

It’s still a fun movie though! Mithila is a delight, lots of little scenes and moments are fun, and there is an overall feeling of a kind good world where people help each other. It’s nice, you should watch it!

2 thoughts on “Chopsticks Review (SPOILERS): A Little Fable of a Girl and a Guy and a Goat

  1. I saw the film a long time ago, and liked it! Unlike you I was very interested in Abhay. I adored the mystery and wanted to know more. And in my memory their odd friendship, two people from two very different worlds, was cute. I remember waiting for romance and then finding it refreshing when it never appeared. But if there is a chopsticks 2, I would watch it partially to see if that romance ever materializes! I also remember Matilda quitting her job, getting another one, and having her former boss respect her when she sees her entertaining the tourist group with which she eats with her fingers. Like you though, I was uninterested in Vijay. I really enjoyed the odd chemistry between Mithila and Abhay, for me that was the film. The scene where she pepper sprays herself in the face is the one I remember the most.

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    • I enjoyed the chemistry between Mithila and Abhay too, but it felt unbalanced. I could understand what she was feeling, but not so much him. If there is a Chopsticks 2 (now I want that!), I want to have some flashback to Abhay that fills in why he cared about her so much and was willing to go above and beyond to help her.

      On Fri, Nov 20, 2020 at 1:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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