Airlift director, Raja Krishna Menon is back with a film that’s worlds apart from his previous one. Chef, starring Saif Ali Khan is adapted from Jon Favreau’s Chef, but promises to be a whole different journey of its own.
The director speaks to us about how his film is unique and the concept of food in films, that’s gradually picking up. After the massive success of his first film, here’s what the director has to say about his newest venture.
Are your nervous about the comparisons that will be made between your film and the Hollywood Chef?
Not really. Maybe before you watch the film it might look like that. I don’t think people are expecting to see the same film either, with Saif Ali Khan playing the same part. Once you enter the theatre our film will take you on its own journey, at least I’m hopeful it will, and all the comparisons will stop at that point. The Hollywood version is a great film, made by an incredible director, and I don’t even want to try and compare with that. Ours is a very different film with a different journey. We do borrow some parts from the original, but the construct and the emption is completely different.
What essentially sets you film apart from the Hollywood version
The key element that sets us apart is that our character, Roshan Kalra is a man who made the choice to be a Chef in the 90s, which is a very important period for India. It is when we first started to think of professions outside the standard ones- doctor, engineers. My mom once came to me and said, that a cousin of mine had become really successful, and I asked, if he was really happy. She replied saying, I don’t know, but he’s making a lot of money- so to me that’s somehow symptomatic of what success used to be. That’s changed but, success today is much more rounded. This concept in itself in uniquely Indian. Our female lead, Radha Menon, the ex-wife, is a new character for Indian cinema. She’s strong, independent and her happiness doesn’t depend on her husband, or being married or on the family. She can maintain a healthy friendship with her ex-husband and she wants her son to have a father- which is all very refreshingly new to hear about in Indian cinema, something we have been exploring through this film. The rest of it is different essentially because the journey of food is so different. Indian is one of the most incredible food countries. The amount of cuisines we have, can’t be compared to any other. The cuisine in India literally changes every 50 miles. Our film is kind of like a road trip across India in a way.
There are a few food themes films in Bollywood, why hasn’t the whole concept taken off yet according to you? Are you planning on changing that with Chef?
I haven’t really watched any of the food films. Even Chenni Kum was much less a food film and was more about exploring the relationship between a woman and a slightly older restaurateur. Daawat-e-Ishq was maybe about food, but I haven’t watched it so wouldn’t really be able to comment. I don’t think there’s any problem with the genre. I think maybe the story doesn’t resonate and that’s why some food films don’t work. Food is an integral part of Indian landscape; our lives are surrounded by it. We eat together, feast together. All my memories are connected to food- so why not a film on it! Chef also isn’t made like a food film; it’s not glorifying food. The food is real, it’s there! It’s more a film about relationships and food is kind of that glue that holds it all together. I personally think the dining table is the most important place in your house.
Why did you choose to make Chef, after making such an intense film like Airlift?
We were very fortunate with Airlift. None of us expected the film to find the success that it did, and it opened the world to me. Once Airlift released, everyone was asking me to make the next Airlift, whatever that means! So, I very consciously wanted to break away from that space and I wanted to do something different. A more personal and emotional story. Just didn’t want to get trapped in one set genre.
How did you zero in on Saif Ali Khan to play the character of Roshan Kalra?
I don’t think anyone other than Saif, could essay the character the way I imagined it to be played out. I wanted the character to be a slightly confused guy, unsure about the things he did, constantly questioning his every move; a more urban kind of guy. The chef skills was the first thing I discussed with Saif, and I warned him about the training I was going to put him through, since I didn’t plan to cheat a single shot. Saif was actually the first choice for the role. I asked him he said yes, and we went ahead and made the film.