Food, glorious food, the relationships forged around it, and chasing your dreams. These are the themes of this movie.
Based on the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey kicks off with the story of an Indian family travelling around Europe to seek their fortune after their family restaurant is burnt to the ground.
The real story, however, starts when the family sets up home in the French countryside.
Then, two main storylines emerge: firstly, the rivalry between two restaurants – one owned by the Indian family, and the other, a classical Michelin-starred French restaurant run by the hard, haughty and very precise Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren); and secondly, the rise to stardom of Hassan (Manish Dayal), the young man from the Indian family, who aspires to be a world-famous chef.
While Madame Mallory’s restaurant is all Parisian posh and elegance, the Indian restaurant across the road has a garish Taj Mahal representation gracing the entrance, with a permanently flickering sign overhead. Bollywood music at the Indian restaurant is turned up to the highest possible volume, much to the chagrin of the condescendingly cultured Madame Mallory.
Head of the family Papa Kadam (Om Puri) dons his pompous golden turban on the opening night, and the smell of Indian curries wafts into the French kitchen barely 100 feet away, forcing the exasperated French chef to slam her windows shut.
Yes, this is a story filled with contrasts: Indian versus French, old versus young, a boy “from the gutter” making it big in the international culinary world … you get the idea.
Expect lots of clichés and things magically falling into place.
Because, sure, it is totally normal for a young French sous chef (Charlotte Le Bon) with huge doe eyes to chance by an Indian family with a broken-down car, and then react in a super distraught (but efficiently competent) manner at their misfortune.
She then brings them home and feeds them till close to bursting with produce from her garden, cold-pressed olive oil made from olives in her garden, and home-baked bread from her oven.
In case you missed the fact that everything is fabulously homegrown, she then stresses that everything is “totally natural”.
For all its predictability though, the movie and its characters quickly grew on me, with the exception of the sous chef, whose envious and jealous streak eventually rendered her quite unlikeable.
The film manages to make the breaking of raw eggs into a bowl look more appetising than any of the cooked meals – which is quite an achievement.
But the most heartwarming part of the movie for me has nothing to do with food – at least not directly.
It is the scene where we see Madame Mallory’s frosty exterior smoulder in the afternoon rain before melting in the heat of Indian curries (and the most unlikely of romances).
Mirren steals the show with her portrayal of the hardheaded Madame Mallory, who undergoes the most character development in this movie.
Most of the “cooler” lines, however, goes to Om Puri as the equally stubborn head of the family who often embarrasses his children with his insistence on always bargaining for the best deals.
Without your rose-tinted glasses on, it might be hard to imagine the prickly sea urchin as the rock Hassan leans on in his turbulent world of Michelin stars, rise to fame and return to his roots.
But within this sentimental world that director Lasse Hallström has painted with a light and deft touch, it is easy to swallow this with a smile.
This is, after all, a world where food the likes of cauliflower ice cream is served (delightful absurdity), and where the addition of spices in abundance, repeatedly and persistently, eventually bears fruit (life lesson for the kids).
It is also where a sincere heart triumphs over ignorance, envy and all things evil.
And let’s not get started on the powerfully redemptive powers of forgiveness!
Yes, this journey might be predictable and paint-by-the-numbers, but it also has all the ingredients for a feel-good time at the cinema.
Just go in expecting a light meal, that though effortlessly sparkly and breezy, is not the kind of exceptionally hearty fare that you will be talking about for a long time.