Distances that dissipate to closeness | Sunday Observer

Distances that dissipate to closeness

30 December, 2018

An American comedy drama with a streak of romance laced into the plot, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a film which has much resonance with today’s widening notions of multiculturalism and fusion food, as well as the subject of immigration of Asians to Europe. The film was adapted to the screen by Steven Knight’s screenplay from the novel of the same name written by Richard Morais. A heartwarming family movie The Hundred-Foot Journey has a mix of Indian and European actors leading the way in a story where cultural clash is shown through the most primary need of all living beings - food. But it is not food in its raw fundamental sense but epicurean dining which is defined differently by the East and the West.

 Charlotte Le Bon and Manish Dayal

The story builds on the advent of the Kadam family as they chance upon a village in France as immigrants seeking a new life having been victims of political violence in Mumbai, India, where they ran a very successful family owned restaurant business. The violent attack on the Kadam family and their restaurant results in the death of the mother and thus puts the father and children on a road to ‘regain themselves’ in a world that is totally different to everything they knew.

First they try to set up in England but the prospects prove unfruitful, and they set their course for Continental Europe. After their rickety old van gives trouble and runs off the road they receive the help of a kindhearted passerby, a young woman named Marguerite played by Charlotte Le Bon, who turns out to be a sous chef at an upscale French restaurant in the village named Le Saule Pleureur which translates to English as The Weeping Willow.

The restaurant which is under the proprietorship of ‘Madame Mallory’ (played by Helen Mirren), is something of a cultural icon in the locale known as a Michelin Star restaurant where even the president of France comes to dine. It is situated opposite the restaurant the Kadams open and what physically separates the two establishments is a mere hundred feet in distance.

The crux of the story is about how the head of the Kadam family played by the late Mumbai based Indian actor Om Prakash Puri, re-roots his family and the trade or business that defines them in a strange foreign environment which shows a curious mix of being both hospitable and resistant to immigrants and eastern culture. ‘Papa’ as Puri’s character is called by his family has to contend with the challenge of setting up anew in an environment where there are adverse factors at work which is principally the Michelin Star bearing restaurant and its proprietorship, as well as how his own children have certain reservations about his plans to introduce Indian cuisine to what seems a community that is by and large ‘conservatively French’.

Cold war

A cold war soon erupts between the two vastly different establishments which are rooted in two different cultures and traditions of cooking. But events which are hilarious, heartwarming and heart-wrenching lead to a thawing of the inimical iciness that ‘Madame Mallory’ casts upon the visitors and also the cooling down of the reciprocal fieriness, brought out by ‘Papa Kadam’.

And the path ahead shows how the bridges are gapped both personally and culturally while new prospects open up for the head chef of the Kadam establishment, the eldest son Hassan, played by Manish Dayal, through his trials and travails rises to become a star class chef in Paris.

The movie which shows captivating scenery of non urban France gives a cinematic feeling that blends the emotions of the characters and the story itself with the surroundings, which is a facet particular to the art of cinema. A story that contains themes as bridging cultural divides, generation gaps, clash of civilizations, culture shock, and discovering humanity among rivals, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an endearing movie that will surely not disappoint.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is a 2014 American comedy-drama film directed by Lasse Hallström from a screenplay written by Steven Knight, adapted from Richard Morais’ 2010 novel of the same name. The film stars Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon and is about a battle of two restaurants in a village: one by an Indian family and the other, a lofty Michelin-starred restaurant.

The Kadam family ran a restaurant in Mumbai. The second-oldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), was being groomed to replace his mother (Juhi Chawla) as the restaurant’s main cook. However, a mob attacks and firebombs the restaurant over an election dispute. Papa Kadam (Om Puri) and his family evacuate the guests, but Mama is killed. Seeking asylum in Europe, the family first settles in London, where their residence proves ill-suited for a restaurant. They depart for mainland Europe.

Shortly after entering France, the brakes on Papa’s van fail near Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the Midi-Pyrénées. Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a sous chef at an upscale French restaurant named Le Saule Pleureur (The Weeping Willow), passes by and offers to help the Kadams find an auto repair shop and a guest house. She brings the Kadams to her apartment and treats them to cold food. Papa is amazed at the quality of the food in the village and its availability and discovers that Marguerite made the food herself.

France for the French

Papa learns of an abandoned restaurant building available for purchase. It is located directly across the street - only a hundred feet (30 m) - from Le Saule Pleureur. Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), proprietor of Le Saule Pleureur and purporting to act as caretaker for the owners of the abandoned restaurant, asks the Kadams to leave because it is “private property”. Papa buys the property, even though the rest of his family is against it, and names the restaurant “Maison Mumbai”.

Mallory asks for their menu and by the time of their opening night has bought all the locally available ingredients they would need to serve. A cold war erupts between Papa and Mallory. The war peaks on Bastille Day when one of Mallory’s chefs, Jean-Pierre, and two others vandalize the Kadams’ restaurant by spray-painting words which translate to “France for the French” on the outer wall and firebombing the interior. Hassan catches the arsonists in the act and scares them off, but his hands and legs are burned.

The following morning Mallory, who knew of the arson and vandalism, dismisses Jean-Pierre and personally cleans the graffiti from Maison Mumbai.

Michelin Star

Hassan, having heard from Marguerite that Mallory hires potential chefs by taste-testing an omelette and deciding whether the person is indeed a great chef, asks if he may cook an omelette for her to his recipe. Due to his injured hands, Mallory helps under Hassan’s supervision.

After tasting the omelette, which had Indian influences to it, Mallory recognizes Hassan’s potential and invites him to work for her as an apprentice, and confessed that she deliberately sabotaged his apology on behalf of his father, when he recreated a classic pigeon dish. Papa is initially against the move, but ultimately strikes a deal with her as to Hassan’s pay.

Hassan’s cooking, which gradually evolves into a fusion of Indian cuisine and French cuisine, results in Mallory’s restaurant receiving its second Michelin star. The award draws national attention to Hassan’s cooking, and he is offered and accepts a job in Paris. Papa and Mallory make amends and begin seeing each other, but Hassan’s relationship with Marguerite has soured.

Hassan’s cooking in Paris quickly receives critical acclaim, fueling speculation of a third Michelin Star for the Paris restaurant, but his work is increasingly bogged down by thoughts of his family and Marguerite (with whom he had an ongoing romance). Hassan returns home a year later and reunites with Marguerite.

He invites Marguerite to join him in a business venture -buying a stake in Mallory’s restaurant, along with operational control. Hassan believes this will help the restaurant earn its third star. That evening, Hassan and Marguerite prepare dinner at Mallory’s restaurant and bring the dishes across the road to the courtyard of Maison Mumbai for all to enjoy.