Saif vs Favreau: The ‘Chef’ That Makes You Laugh and Hungry

Bollywood’s ‘Chef’ isn’t an exact remake of the Hollywood original, but here’s why it lacks heart in comparison. 

5 min read
Though Bollywood’s ‘Chef’ isn’t a remake of the Hollywood original, here’s why it lacks heart in comparison. 

Director Raja Krishna Menon was clear from the very beginning that his version of Jon Favreau’s Chef won’t be a complete remake of the Hollywood flick. But in its attempt to tell the same story set in an entirely different world and context, the Saif Ali Khan starrer ends up looking like a lazy piece of storytelling, that neither makes you laugh, nor hungry. (Beware, spoilers ahead!)

Saif Doesn’t Make You Hungry

Menon’s Chef sadly, is hardly about food. While you only hear about Roshan’s (Saif Ali Khan) romantic runaway story for his passion to cook, all you really see in the film is an egoistic chef who can barely carry the weight of his Michelin stars (he has three by the way). Roshan Kalra isn’t excited by fresh aromas, local ingredients, cooking techniques or experimentation. While Kerala sits pretty in the background, all it inspires him to muster up is a Rottza, which is nothing but an unidentifiable filling topped with grated cheese, spread between two wheat parathas and served like a pizza. Honestly, his lazy and unappetising creation makes you wonder why he’s a big deal in the culinary world to begin with.

Menon fails to translate his own love for the variety of flavours that is India, into his story. Jon Favreau’s Chef on the other hand makes you drool with every cuban sandwich he serves. To put a finger on it, the comparison between our desi version and its Hollywood original comes close to the difference between Masterchef India and its super scrumptious Australian version.

The Supporting Cast

Chandan Roy Sanyal plays the happy-go-lucky Bengali assistant and friend to Roshan Kalra, New York’s celebrity chef. But he doesn’t quite match up to the wit or the spirit of John Leguizamo (Martin), who plays the endearing sidekick in the Jov Favreau version. Though Menon’s story has a lot more scope for him to shine, his relationship with Roshan doesn't quite have the same love. In fact, his flying down all the way to help him set up a food truck is hardly justified in Menon’s interpretation.

Sobhita Dhulipala, Roshan’s ‘hot’ voice of reason, doesn’t add much to the film either. In fact, it would be criminal to even compare her Vinnie with Scarlett Johansson’s Molly.

But Milind Soman (Bijju) deserves a special mention. Even though Robert Downie Jr makes one hell of an ex-husband in Favreau’s plot, there probably couldn’t be a better choice than Milind Soman to play the rich, dignified and charming love interest in Padmapriya’s life.

Milind Soman proves to be the icing on the cake in Menon’s <i>Chef</i>.&nbsp;
Milind Soman proves to be the icing on the cake in Menon’s Chef
(Photo courtesy: YouTube/T-series)
Milind Soman brings a great deal of maturity to the story and puts Roshan, the proud chef in his right place, which is much needed to be honest. He even puts up a rather convincing act in a mundu and is a complete surprise in the film.

What also works in favour of the desi version is a more substantial role cut out for Roshan’s ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya) as compared to Sophia Vargara’s screen time in the Hollywood drama.

Hung Over a Happy Ending

Saif Ali Khan in conversation with Raja Krishna Menon.
Saif Ali Khan in conversation with Raja Krishna Menon.
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/Chef)

Happy endings are great but Menon’s film comes together a bit too conveniently at the end. It almost feels lazy. While Favreau’s version too ends with a happy wedding, at least it feels very organic. But Roshan’s journey ends with his father coming to terms with his life choices, after 20 odd years, for no real reason. His change of heart is neither explained, nor necessary. He suddenly finds a reason to be proud of his chef son, even though he was the whole reason why Saif ran away from home at the age of 15. And their patch up now barely brings a smile to Roshan’s face. In fact, the film ends with his favourite chhole bhature waale chachaji saying “ant bhala toh sab bhala” (all’s well that ends well). Bollywood’s Chef for one, surely has a rather unimaginative ending.

Roshan vs Carl

Tragically, one doesn’t connect with Roshan the way one does with Carl, despite the familiar landscape and cuisine. Roshan, who ran away from home as a teenager for his dream of becoming a chef one day, grows up to be a bitter 40 year old who has lost the only passion he had in life. But why does that happen? We never find out. Why does his marriage fall apart? We only gauge from a frivolous song sequence. And why does he have a meltdown? Surely, a customer’s vague feedback can’t be enough to trigger it, one wonders. Roshan, who became a cook solely for the purpose of making a hungry soul happy, is somehow only bothered about his success and his EMIs now. Why? We’ll never know. That’s probably why as a viewer one doesn’t empathise with what matters to him. Even his relationship with his son seems quite superficial, despite a natural performance by Svar Kamble (Arman).

Svar Kamble and Saif Ali Khan in a scene from <i>Chef. </i>
Svar Kamble and Saif Ali Khan in a scene from Chef.

Carl’s character is a lot more flawed and yet a lot more relatable. He’s always fighting for his passion, with or without a fancy job. All he wants to do is cook and it’s the only thing that makes him happy. He never stops experimenting, tasting, smelling and cooking. We know exactly what he’s trying to fix within (even though he doesn’t) and his journey makes sense. More than anything else, he makes you hungry.

Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony in a scene from <i>Chef. </i>
Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony in a scene from Chef.

Remake or not, Bollywood’s Chef doesn’t quite hold up against its Hollywood original, especially when it comes to the father-son bonding, that lacks some serious heart and wit.

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