In my travels across the south of France from Nice to Frejus to Brignoles to Aix-en-Provence, and then on to Arles, Nimes, Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan, I don’t recall seeing even one Indian restaurant. We certainly didn’t find one in the medieval fortress at Cite de Carcassonne. But the point is that in the film The Hundred-Foot Journey, an enterprising Indian family, the Kadams, decide to open an Indian restaurant in the south of France in a town called Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.
The Hundred-Foot Journey in the title refers to the distance from the front door of the Maison Mumbai to the entrance of an elegant traditional French restaurant directly across the street. The Michelin starred French restaurant is named Le Saule Pleureur’s.
But the film doesn’t begin in France. The film opens in the open air food markets of Bombay, as a small boy follows his mother as she makes her rounds shopping for that night’s meal. Flash forward to the recent past, as the small boy has now grown into being a young man, Hassan, played by Manish Dayal.
He’s a now cooking for his family’s restaurant in Mumbai – that is until communal riots consume both the family restaurant and his mother in cauldron of flames.
The family relocates to London, but do not like the weather, and are soon on the roads of Western Europe. A near accident on a hilly road in Saint Antonin- Noble Val knocks the family car out of commission for a while.
Fortunately a local woman, Marguerite played by Charlotte Le Bon, takes them in and offers temporary lodging and a meal while the car is being repaired.
The family patriarch called Papa and played wonderfully by the veteran Indian actor Om Puri takes a liking to the locale, and is soon gazing at an empty shell of a building. As enterprising people can do, he immediately sees this space as the new home for his next restaurant.
Of course Madam Mallory, played by Helen Mirren, owns the restaurant just 100 feet away on the opposite side of the street. She is none too keen about having competition directly across the street. So she schemes and plots to make it all the more difficult for the fledgling restaurant, which will be called Maison Mumbai to get started.
But Papa sees this as a game and a challenge that he is more than up for. Hassan is indeed a great chef. And so it begins. The haughty Madam Mallory and her beef bourguignon versus Papa Kadam and his murgh masala, a competition that the lovers of ‘food porn’ will find irresistible. Do the words culture clash or romance to follow come to mind?
The Hundred-Foot Journey has a story to it that you can very easily predict the outcome almost as soon as we have met the characters. But so what? While the story yields no surprises, the look and feel, and the taste is certainly supremely presented. Whether we are looking at the exquisite French cuisine of Madam Mallory’s establishment – even the President of France has dined there, or the bubbly chicken korma that Maison Mumbai serves – it is all breathtakingly captured for our eyes to devour.
And it won’t matter if we are watching some one make an omelette or a fromage panini which is a fancy name for a grilled cheese sandwich, it all looks delicious. Even the tradition bound French cooking (recipes that are two hundred years old) can stand a gentle nudge, and Hassan Kadam is more than willing to do so.
Hassan is indeed a magician of cooking. Watch him slice and dice. Watch him chop. Watch him stir and season. Not only do we notice, so does Madam Mallory. But even if I tell you that, it doesn’t begin to tell us where Hassan’s cooking skills will take him. Some have said that while there is a disparity between the cuisines, there’s also a major difference in the way that the food is served or presented. The Indian cuisine is bubbly and hot and so deliciously flavored, while the French cuisine is also tasty and delightful relying on ‘subtlety of flavor’, and the presentation is almost as important as the taste.
Hassan will soon travel from the Traditional French cuisine to Gastronomie Nouvelle – which to almost everyone’s eyes is more like small portions of food embellished by artistic flourishes of sauce that seemingly were drizzled onto a plate. There’s no other way to describe it. The presentation more resembles a minimalist painting by Joan Miro,
than a plate of food that could be described as hearty..
So we have Mirren and Puri, Dayal and Le Bon, going at it, in the usual sense, and we are treated to the sight of plenty of delectable looking food. If ever a film could be described as fitting into the niche of ‘food porn’, then this film would be a prime example.
To be fair, the film is fairly lightweight and will not tax any one dramatically. But like a Montmartre crepe bought from a sidewalk vendor in Paris, to a chicken curry served at food courts nearly anywhere in the world, this film, with the Swedish Director Lasse Hallstrom at the helm, working with a screenplay by Steven Knight who adapted the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais, is flavorful and tasty; even if not overly memorable.
I’ll go with a rating of three-point seven five and a hearty recommendation. Check out the trailer below.