The first five minutes or so of The Hundred-Foot Journey are so clunky you’d be forgiven for slumping in your seat despondently, writing off the film as another one of those clueless Hollywood productions determined to reinforce the same old ‘exotic India’ clichés. But after poor Juhi Chawla is dispensed with, having made a short-but-embarrassing cameo as a mumbo-jumbo spouting mother who passes on her culinary skills to her son, the film finally takes flight.
 
Based on a book by Richard C Morais, and helmed by Chocolat director Lasse Hallstrom – who knows how to work such themes as culture clashes, and the power of food to bring people together – the movie stars Om Puri as the patriarch of the Kadam family who moves his brood of five to a small village in the South of France. Here, he rents an abandoned property to restart the family-run Indian food business that they lost in a communal riot back home in Mumbai. Naturally this doesn’t go down well with Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the haughty owner of the fine-dining French restaurant that sits directly across the street from the Kadams’ upstart eatery.
 
That’s a cue for some enjoyable scenes of competitive sabotage between Papa Kadam and Madame Mallory. From buying up all the crayfish at the farmers market to filing complaints with the mayor, they will stop at nothing to embarrass the other. Meanwhile, the old man’s son and star cook Hassan (Manish Dayal) becomes obsessed with mastering classic French cooking techniques, finding an ally and a romantic interest in Margeurite (Charlotte Le Bon), a pretty sous chef from the rival restaurant. Madame Mallory thaws after a racist attack on the Kadams’ establishment, and when she discovers Hassan’s talent, she offers him a chance to train in her kitchen, hoping that with his help her restaurant may earn a coveted second Michelin star.
 
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and scored by AR Rahman, The Hundred-Foot Journey is unabashedly sentimental, and Hallstrom knows exactly which buttons to push when. There is some nice dialogue sprinkled here and there, but the food-porn cinematography is clearly the star here. Expectedly, we get gorgeous montages of both Indian and French food being prepared lovingly, and one particular scene of an omelette being cooked made me particularly hungry.
 
Yet the film feels at least 20 minutes too long, weighed down by those portions in which Hassan takes a job at a fancy restaurant in Paris, where innovation is the key word. That detour aside, the film manages to appeal both to the stomach and the heart, even if the inevitable romance between Papa Kadam and Madame Mallory feels pat. Above all else, the film is a breezy watch because Om Puri and Helen Mirren are simply terrific in it.
 
I’m going with three out of five for The Hundred-Foot Journey. This is comfort food for those who like their movies all warm and fuzzy.

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