I published this blog when I first saw the film many mths ago, but oddly, it’s not among my published posts so i’m publishing perhaps for the first time?
the delights of lasse hallstrom’s hundred foot journey:
the first obvious delight for me is its appeal to “all” the senses: smell, taste, touch, see, hear. i could smell the curries, spices, even the fish and meats, and the béchamel and other sauces, even if you can’t name the five mother sauces of french cooking. you may find yourself breathing heavily during scenes of wild mushrooms, simmering curries and snow-white béchamel sauce. i could literally taste some of the foods. i could see the abundant colors of what i smell and taste; the beautiful french landscapes, including one breathtaking shot of the sun cascading down, and locale makes the film seem ethereal at times. i could hear multiple languages: french, hindi and english and the music from india and france in the wonderful score, which does what the film is doing: marrying the two warring yet loving cultures to make a culinary and romantic ensemble
maison Mumbai, with its faux taj mahal, booming hindi filmy music and twinkling lights starkly opposes the formal french restaurant, le saule pleureur, with its starched linen, heavy cream, fine wine and perfectly shined cutlery. there, you are not to eat with your hands unless it is to hold a slice of baguette, whereas in maison mumbai you could eat with your hands and even lick your fingers. “hundred foot journey” becomes a place where murgh masala is on par with béchamel sauce, and where Hassan infuses time-tested French recipes with his secret store of exotic spices. the idea of the ‘French not eating Indian food, because they have a food of their own’ as Hassan’s sister believes falls flat on its face when mme Mallory tastes Hassan’s divine omelet.
but food isn’t the metaphor that’s bridging the two cultures. something else is cooking up on low heat. the two love stories which have been simmering throughout the film: the older couple mme Mallory/papa kadam and marguerite/hassan. mme mallory and papa kadam cat-fight and judge each other (only for half the movie), but the young couple – marguerite/Hassan- never judge each other and manage to absorb each other’s tastes quite well. the only thing distasteful in the film comes from the young acclaimed french chef at le saule pleureur, who is fired for his intolerance, his inability to assimilate or coexist, and who reinforces the imperial idea of the other or the marginalized as being ‘less’. his intolerance on which he acted – by spray-painting racial epithets in big black letters on maison mumbai’s walls – earned him not only the loss of a job, but something even bigger, the loss of a career. he loses the Michelin star, which was everything he ever wanted as a chef! there’s no place for xenophobes who worship french “purity” in this film.
in an age of digital love, voyeurism, and vicarious pleasures it is refreshingly soothing to see a film that explores all the senses, privileging each sense on the same level. if Aristotle privileged touch above all senses and plato privileged seeing as the highest sense, the world of hundred foot journey isn’t insensitive. in a world where seeing has become the theoretical tool of the west- in cinema, social media like instagram, twitter, tumblr etc – and our society is no longer our oyster, but our screen, hundred foot world is multi sensorial. a world where artists, philosophers, writers, musicians, dreamers and chefs feel, sense, taste and act. a world without feeling, tasting, touching, seeing, hearing is a boring, one dimensional world. hundred foot world is a world filled with empathy, vulnerability, sensitivity, tactility and art. to appreciate and savor all that the film offers is to be ‘touched’ by it in every sense, because tactility isn’t blind immediacy nor merely sensorial, but cognitive, too, and savoring has its own pleasures.
agnes varda once asked what someone would see if they open you up in Plages d’Agnès . she said if you opened up some people, you would see countrysides, but if you opened her up you’d see beaches. she then looks into the camera and asks “Et en certaines personnes que trouverez-vous?” [and what will you find in certain people?]. I thought the question odd when I saw that film, but I understand now what she meant. if I was opened up, hundred foot journey would be one of the movies you’d see inside. perhaps because I’ve crossed these two worlds and continue to cross them. perhaps because they offer so much to me, as the movie does to its audience. the plot isn’t overcooked in the wrong person’s hands, but instead is a feel-good fare with plenty of delicieux! for me who have become vegetarian no secret sauce is needed. i just mixed the traditional ingredients of the two cultures and voila! a melting pot of indo-french haute cuisine was uncovered.