Cooking is a balancing act – sweet and tart, sharp and mild, crisp and tender. It calls for a sense of steady trust in your instincts as well as fearlessness to try a startling new juxtaposition. This balancing is at the heart of the recent movie The Hundred-Foot Journey.
This cinematic dish brings together Bollywood’s Om Puri and Hollywood’s Helen Mirren as equally determined rivals for the tastebuds of the French village Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where Mirren’s Madame Mallory runs a haute cuisine restaurant, and where Puri’s Papa moves his family and opens an Indian restaurant after fleeing violence in his home country and feeling dissatisfied with the produce elsewhere in Europe. Papa’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal) has a particular gift for cooking, and soon teaches himself French cuisine even as he continues to prepare Indian food in the family restaurant.
The challenge? The two restaurants are situated across the road from each other, just one hundred feet apart. Just as the sound of Bollywood music (a winsome soundtrack by A. R. Rahman, known to Westerners for his work in films such as Slumdog Millionaire) and the smell of curry seep across to Madame’s restaurant, so information floats back into Papa’s restaurant – and hostilities rekindle the fear of persecution the family fled in India.
It is Hassan who bridges the gap between the two solitudes. His ambition to learn French cooking has gotten the attention of Madame’s sous-chef Marguerite, who soon recognizes that his natural talent far surpasses her own, and the dynamic between the two is a tangy blend of attraction, affection and rivalry. Finally, Hassan auditions for Madame, who also recognizes his talent and hires him for her restaurant. He makes the hundred-foot journey into a whole new world, where his Indian spice repertoire adds a new and innovative dimension to the Western food he has learned to create.
Ultimately, Hassan must learn to balance his great success as a chef with his desire to stay close to a land which grows the most vibrant food and a family he loves. I won’t give away the ending, though it is not a shocker.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” – whose production credits include Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Disney – does not venture far outside of a winning formula and does not challenge the viewer too intensely. But then, it doesn’t have to. Like Hassan, whose hundred-foot journey arguably changed his life even more than the thousands of miles he had traveled before, this film does much even within a simple range. Foodies will appreciate the genuine passion for flavor that runs through it. Romantics will enjoy the pairings that develop. And everyone can enjoy the fun. This film has found the right balance.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. She is the editor for Parvati’s book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie: A Revolutionary Life Makeover for the Sincere Spiritual Seeker”.