Saif Ali Khan's Chef is a perfect remake recipe of Jon Favreau's original — here's how
Imagine if you are served turmeric latte in a slender coffee mug instead of the good ol' aluminium glass. Will that add to the taste or health benefits of the former?
This "old wine in a new bottle" is what Bollywood filmmakers have been doing for years in the remake genre. Pick your favourite Hollywood film. Cast actors according to how their Hollywood counterparts look. Spruce the narrative up with songs and glamour. And voila! A remake is ready for consumption.
This has been the staple recipe of Hollywood remakes - and creative disasters - in India. But Raja Krishna Menon's recently released slice-of-life food film Chef is a clear departure. Based on Jon Favreau's 2014 Hollywood film Chef, the film does not swear by every word of the original film's recipe but takes only a page out of its book.
Menon not only places Chef in a new cultural context but also tweaks major plot points in order to lend it a fresh appeal. While the film sticks to the central narrative of the original, it also adds dimensions to various characters and scenes, a move that was presumable avoided by Favreau in order to not discount the intelligence of the viewers.
California vs Kochi
Favreau played a California-based chef in the 2014 film. He enjoyed a more casual relationship with his son as they lived in the same city. In case of the 2017 film, Saif Ali Khan's titular character works in a New York restaurant whereas his son and ex-wife live in Kochi, India. As they say the distance makes the hearts grow fonder, the number of miles between the father and the son further justified their waning relationship.
Similarly, since both the films are road movies in equal capacities, they capture their respective topographies beautifully. While Favreau's film transports the viewers to California, Menon's film navigate across cultures as the narrative travels from Kerala to New Delhi. The diversity in the Hindi film encapsulates the rich diversity that the country enjoys. Thus, with the setting, the food changes as well; from kokum and idiyappas to lassi and chhole-bhature as the narrative moves northward.
Twitter? What's that?
Twitter is an integral part of Favreau's film. Unlike Menon's film, the role of the micro-blogging website is not limited to a chronicler of the lead character's assault of a guest and a social media marketing tool of his food truck. The difference lies in the profile of the assaulted, who happens to be a food critic. His social media influence leads to the chef getting trolled.
But Menon deliberately stays away from this angle as Twitter is as organic today as vegetables grown in Mapro Garden. It is a given that Twitter is omnipresent in the contemporary times so using it as a driving force in 2017 would not have lent the same surprise element that it did to the 2014 film. There is a passing reference to the the protagonist's social media illiteracy in the 2017 film but that only comes across as a product placement on Tinder.
Food in close quarters
One criticism that Menon's food film has received is that it has no food, or at least in close-up shots. While one can give the cinematographer the benefit of doubt as it would be rather abrupt to oscillate from close-up shots (since it's a food film) and long shots (since it's also a road trip), the intricacies and detailing of food remain do not make it to the film like they did to the 2014 film.
Chef's son need not be a chef
In Favreau's film, it is clearly stated that his son aspires to follow in his father's footsteps and become a chef. That is why their relationship extends to a mentor-protege relationship as well. But the bond between Saif's character and his son is deeply personal, made fonder by the physical distance between them.
Chef's father vs Chef's father-in-law
Menon's Chef followed the classic trope of grandfather-father relationship juxtaposed against that of father-son. Saif's backstory reveals he abandoned his authoritarian father's place to pursue his culinary career. The strained relationship subconsciously seeps into the relationship with his son. Both these relationships come full circle in the climax, thus upholding Bollywood's conventional spirit of poetic justice.
On the other hand, Favreau's Chef was conveniently devoid of any mention of his father. What did it prominently feature was his father-in-law in the capacity of a singer. Thus, the climax ends on a rather breezy note since the film consciously cuts down on the drama across generations.
Radha Menon vs Inez
The relationship between the protagonist and his wife is almost identical in both the films. Both of them belong to different cultures and share a cordial relationship post-divorce. Their conscious uncoupling is aided by their son who harbours equal amount of love for both his parents. But unlike Inez, Radha's predicament is thrown more light on.
Radha, played by Padampriya, is a fascinating character as she masks an emotional turmoil behind a steely exterior. Despite being a Bharatnatyam teacher, she is not very emotive otherwise as she conceals her pain and joy rather adeptly. The only scene where her face gives in to the heart is the flashback sequence when she realises that she is not her husband's priority anymore, as she wantonly rolls spaghetti, cooked by him, on her fork.
Finally, Robert Downey Jr's blink-and-miss cameo vs Milind Soman's meatier (literally) part
While Favreau roped in Robert Downey Jr to play Sofia Vergara's ex-husband, Menon signed the "Iron Man of India" Milind Soman as Padampriya's love interest. Robert's appearance can be easily termed a cameo, though he was bloody damn good at it, but Soman's character is way more than the riches.
The audience gets an insight into his obsession with health (no
brownie nariyal pani points there), art, vintage cars, literature and business. His heated exchanges with Saif's character pitting commerce against art come out really well, which is also reflected in the original film, in conversations between Favreau's character and the restaurant owner, played by Dustin Hoffman.
And so, Menon's Chef makes for the perfect remake recipe. It does not shoplift all its ingredients from the original but handpicks only a few tastemakers while opting for the indigenous variety.