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Best Indian Food Movies


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i'm tempted to make the hypothesis that the mass bombay cinema does not harp on food imagery because this would be extremely alienating for a large part of its audience that doesn't eat well every day. it is one thing to show wealth as aspirational but another to show actual food. but i won't make this hypothesis just yet because i suspect that the minute i do i'll remember tons of movies that do show food being lavishly cooked, eaten and thrown away (as i say that i remember "jaane bhi do yaaron" and the "thoda khao, thoda phenko" scene--suman will know what i am talking about).

When it comes to the portrayal of food in film, Bollywood's aversion is not that dissimilar to Hollywood's. Does Hollywood's audience have any issues with putting food on the table? I think it has less to do with the financial situation of the audience and more with a larger than life image these studios are perpetuating. The activities of preparing food, eating and sleeping are just too mundane for popular cinema. Have you ever seen Julia Roberts eat on film? Denzel Washington? Brad Pitt? Aamir Khan?

I haven't. Movie stars don't eat. Not publicly at least.

It's an archetypal anima/animus thing.

actually yes, characters in hollywood films eat all the time--in restaurants, in diners, they cook themselves breakfasts, they have family dinners, they throw food across the room when they get upset--think of the whole genre of the thanksgiving and christmas movies--complete orgies of eating; it just doesn't happen with as much fanfare as in something like "big night" or "eat, drink, man, woman" and the camera doesn't obsess with the food but it happens. i'd be hard-pressed to think of a hollywood film in which no one is ever seen eating. i can think of many bollywood films in which this is the case.

but i did say i wasn't going to make that hypothesis anyway :-)

(julia roberts eats in "ocean's eleven," by the way, and in "pretty woman", to name just two films.)

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Well now we have Bend it Like Beckham that does talk about the food. Any others to add to this list??

FWIW, the DVD of Bend It Like Beckham has a bonus segment of the director making aloo gobi under the supervision of her mother and aunt. It couldn't be funnier if it had been written.

That segment, for me, was more entertaining than the film. I have such a huge crush on Gurinder Chadha :)

I downloaded the recipe a while back but can't seem to relocate the original link. If anyone wants the recipe, let me know.

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I haven't seen a Bollywood film in many years and don't see Hollywood films that often, for that matter, but I'm enjoying this thread. It's nice to learn things on eGullet.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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(julia roberts eats in "ocean's eleven," by the way, and in "pretty woman", to name just two films.)

I stand corrected. Although I can't recall her gastronomic exploits in Ocean's Eleven, you've jogged a memory of some pigging out she did in Pretty Woman.

Oh well... back to the drawing board! :)

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QUOTE (mongo_jones @ Apr 7 2004, 09:54 PM)

(julia roberts eats in "ocean's eleven," by the way, and in "pretty woman", to name just two films.)

I stand corrected. Although I can't recall her gastronomic exploits in Ocean's Eleven, you've jogged a memory of some pigging out she did in Pretty Woman.

Oh well... back to the drawing board! :)

You both should be ashamed. You've forgotten that in "My Best Friend's Wedding" Julia Roberts character is... a restaurant reviewer! And there's an early scene in the film that actually shows her in action doing this. (Lets leave out the fact that she made probably the least plausible restaurant reviewer - and that was the least plausible restaurant reviewing scene ever!)

Vikram

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There have been a couple of Movies where the waiter is asked for the menu and he rattles off typical Irani/Moghlai restaurant style:

omelettebhurjihalffrybaidafrybaidamasalabaidaghotalachickenfrychickenmoghlaichickenmasalakeemfrychickenbiryanikeemamasalamuttonmasalamuttonfrymuttonbiryanibhejamasalabhejafrypaobunmaskachaisabmilega
Edited by Episure (log)

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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This question of food and Bollywood films - no, wait, time out: all Mongo's points about the term Bollywood are excellent and true, but I'm still using it because:

(a) its convenient

(b) the terms for the other Indian cinema industries like Tollywood (Bengali, from Tollygunge), Mollywood (Tamil, from Madras) are tedious beyong belief,

© the term Bollywood now has a certain sense independent of the actual Bollywood film industry referring to films involving certain typical elements like music, dance, escapist story lines and, of course, the desi community in some sense or Mongo will pounce on me and ask why Chicago doesn't count as a Bollywood film. So under this expanded sense you can include everything from Lagaan to Sholay to Monsoon Wedding to Mandi to Mother India to Munnabhai MBBS (my new fave film!) to Maqbool. It would include that piece of fluff called The Guru and even Bend It Like Beckham and Bhaji On The Beach, though I accept that by then its straining at the seams. The only thing it would definitely not include would be the Indian art film tradition of people like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, but since this is effectively dead anyway, we can ignore it.

OK, back to food and Bollywood. I've written about this somewhere, but frustratingly can't find the piece, but if I remember what I said it was something on the lines that one of the biggest differences between the Indian and Chinese popular film traditions was in their approach to food. Chinese films celebrate food and its cooking in every way - eating it, serving it, cooking it. There's even a Jackie Chan film called The Chef and you can just see those cleavers being used in fight sequences. So when Ang Lee made Eat Drink Man Woman (Monica, rent it IMMEDIATELY), he was drawing on a well established tradition.

Indian films however rarely show food, and I think this reveals some telling cultural differences. (I don't agree with Mongo's suggestion that this is out of concern for starving viewers. If they're starving they're not going to be able to afford a ticket and anyway, with the films going over the top in showing aspirational fantasies in every other way, why would they stop at the food).

I'd suggest that one reason for this absence of food and cooking is social hierarchies where cooks come pretty low down (how this meshes with the maharaj concept where the chefs are Brahmins is a fascinating question, but for another thread). Its something servants do or women (who are servants anyway in most Indian families). It is not aspirational at all, even today - why do you think the middle class parents in Monsoon Wedding aren't amused by their son wanting to be a chef?

So you're just not going to show the main characters cooking. Remember the way those mafiosi in the Godfather films were always making meatballs and pasta? And can you imagine any of the gangsters in Indian films doing anything like that. Bawarchi is the exception that proves the rule, as is a more recent film that I did post about - Rules: Pyar Ka Superhit Formula where the very hunky hero wants to become a chef:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...=0entry398423

I think there's also another reason, and its to do with a schizoid attitude towards bodily pleasures that runs quite deep in Indian culture. It could be sex or it could be food, but both are treated in a very squeamish way upfront, even while both are being indulged in like crazy in private. As has been observed ad nauseum, this is the country of the Kama Sutra (and some pretty steamy Bollywood films), but which becomes are moralistic and prurient - at the snap of a bra you'll have people mouthing off about outrages to the honour of Indian womanhood.

So too with food. Indians love to eat, but they don't quite like being reminded of this fact. There's some uneasy feeling that all those fasts and self denying ascetic meals that 'holy' people are meant to follow are the real ideal. I've seen Jain ceremonies where people who have fasted for two weeks or more are almost literally worshipped and then everyone goes for a mega feast. There's the Ramzaan cycle of daytime fasting, nightime gluttony (though that's not just Indian). In the Hindu mythological comics we read as kids there are all those pictures of sages denying themselves bodily pleasures and acquiring huge powers, while its the gross demons like Kumbhakarna who eat like crazy.

And you can see this comes up in films as well. As Monica has noted villains are among the few people often shown eating in Indian films. And what do they eat? Meat. Huge horrible chunks of it, thereby confirming their base, tamasic nature. (Along with it they drink, and if there's anything Indians are even more schizoid about than food and sex, its alcohol). In a more tolerant vein the other group that eats a lot are the clowns and buffoons - remember Tun Tun, the comic actress whose characteristic was being very fat and eating a lot.

There's one other group that is associated with food and that's also characteristic. Mothers are often shown with food, but not cooking or eating it, but giving it, because that's what mothers are meant to do in India, endlessly give of themselves. So that spoon of curds given before a journey that Monica noted is given by the mother, and its the mother too who's often shown trying to feed her sons, stuff them up - 'le beta, le, thoda aur khana, maa ke hath se khana'. ('eat my darling, eat some more, eat from your mother's hand')!

So that's how food comes into Indian films. But showing it being cooked, served and eaten without guilt. Ewwww... that's not how its done in Bollywood.

Vikram

PS: As one might expect, Bollywood film sets are known for the fabulous food on offer. There are specific film caterers who are reknowned for being able to knock and serve the most amazing - and heavy - food imaginable on the sets. Its one of the few perks the crew enjoys, so its never stinted, even if the stars themselves in these figure conscious days are more careful about what they eat.

Oh, and for a last film and food link, don't forget the ritual of breaking a coconut that absolutely has to accompany the first take of any film. That first take in fact is always a formality, done for the coconut which is broken as the director shouts "Action!" and then "Cut" almost at once. The coconut is distributed as prasad while the filming gets going.

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Vikram - I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with the villains part. Do you know what the significance of the yogurt is?

Friends and I were discussing this very topic last night and interesting enough one of the things that came up is that food, when its shown, is typically around religious occasions or when a good "deal" is stuck (moo meeta kar loo) -- lets sweeten our mouths with something type stuff... I had not really thought about it that much before. Also a lot of the 80's movies will show people ordering sandwiches and cold coffee.

One of the funnier scenes I was thinking of last night was when Amir Khan in Rangeela goes to a five star hotel and orders like he is in an Irani hotel. that was too funny. The expressions on the servers face were classic

We watched Munna Bhai too.. my new fav as well. It was listed in the British Journal of Medicine recently.. let me see if I can find a link.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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There have been a couple of Movies where the waiter is asked for the menu and he rattles off typical Irani/Moghlai restaurant style:
omelettebhurjihalffrybaidafrybaidamasalabaidaghotalachickenfrychickenmoghlaichickenmasalakeemfrychickenbiryanikeemamasalamuttonmasalamuttonfrymuttonbiryanibhejamasalabhejafrypaobunmaskachaisabmilega

Oh yes.. that is funny.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Vikram - i definitely agree with you and was thinking the same thing myself in regards to Chinese food tradition vs Indian food tradiotion. I think definitely the key point is that food providers are in no way glamorous in Indian culture.

Edited by tryska (log)
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Actually, this discussion has reminded me that there are still a number of un-mined areas for Indian cinema.

I'd love to see a desi-style, street-food-y, Mumbai-based, Tampopo.

Maybe a character who aspires to be a miyan, or perhaps better still a top bhelpuri-wallah. And a mysterious expert with a dark past (played by lambu) puts him through the paces - Karate Kid meets Chowpatty.

Or something.

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vikram,

your take on the non-appearance, for the most part, of food in bollywood cinema is much better than my half-baked hypothesis which i never fully advanced (watch me cover my ass!). however, i'd hold very strongly to the distinctions between the different film industries and films made in the indian diaspora. not for the sake of being a pedant or being difficult (though i have been known to happily be both) but because i believe important things get blurred otherwise.

mongo

p.s: wasn't julia roberts in "mystic pizza" as well? surely she must have eaten some--or was that film not about pizza? never watched it. and don't forget her over-weight character in the execrable "america's sweethearts".

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Actually, this discussion has reminded me that there are still a number of un-mined areas for Indian cinema.

I'd love to see a desi-style, street-food-y, Mumbai-based, Tampopo.

Maybe a character who aspires to be a miyan, or perhaps better still a top bhelpuri-wallah. And a mysterious expert with a dark past (played by lambu) puts him through the paces - Karate Kid meets Chowpatty.

Or something.

lambu-da's actually probably been in the most food displaying movies (weren't there huge food scenes in "namak halal" as well?)--this may be more proof that his fans tolerated in him things they might not in others.

vikram, i forgot to say this but i am pleasantly surprised to discover that you don't scoff at bollywood (as in the bombay popular) cinema.

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Thanks for such an interesting discussion, everyone. Some of the distinctions you make are quite helpful, Mongo. My local Blockbusters has a section of Indian movies, so I'll explore a little based on some of the ideas here.

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I'd love to see a desi-style, street-food-y, Mumbai-based, Tampopo.

That's a wonderful idea. I think Tampopo style could be applied to a myriad number of cultures.

An Ethiopian Tampopo

An Alaskan Tampopo

An Italian Tampopo

A Morrocan Tampopo

An Argentinian Tampopo

Just about any nationality of cuisine (or subnationality) would make a great Tampopo.

One could even combine cultures and make Tampopo fusion. Wouldn't that be delicious?

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Guest nimki

What about chachi 420 where kamal hasan persuades his muslim friend to become a goonga (dumb) maharaj in Tabus' home. They have some conversations about food and cooking (cant recall all of it).

(Ek Hasina Thi) Urmila matondkar, as the vulnerable young lass living alone in mumbai, cooking food, making tea etc. And when she meets with Saif, he looks into her grocery bag and comments upon the number of instant noodle packets.

(ok theory getting a bit stretched here).

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good lord. after reading the description of Tampopo we should totally riff off it. Hell it worked for Tortilla Soup which is a direct riff off Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.

Edited by tryska (log)
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  • 1 month later...

A new food sighting in a Bollywood film. Well, not that new since the film is Maqbool, the Bollywood take on Macbeth set in the Mumbai underworld which was released quite a few months back, but I only just got around to seeing it. And my advice to anyone else who hasn't it - see it! The film has got ecstatic reviews, and I'm not sure its all that good. Or its more like this - I thought the film was really good, but it fell apart at the end and somehow that was all the more annoying for how good it could have been.

Its interesting, I think, that it fell apart precisely where it diverged most sharply from Shakespeare, which is telling. I'm not a fanatic for sticking to texts and Shakespeare can certainly take it. For example, in the film Duncan is the don of the underworld and Lady M is actually his mistress who starts making eyes at his devoted assistant, Maqbool/Macbeth. Nor in the original, but it works. Yet the play does have a basic structure that must, I think, be followed and where this film doesn't, it goes wrong.

That apart, its quite a film to see. Some things are just brilliantly done - the conversion of the witches into two corrupt, semi-funny, semi-sinister Mumbai cops is just fantastic, and so too the way they use the janam-patra (horoscope) diagram as a recurring symbol. Tabu is wonderful as the Lady M character and Pankaj Kapoor as the Duncan character (too good - he unbalances the film). And the depiction of the mostly Muslim underworld is visually stunning - this really is Godfather transplanted to Mumbai with all that film's visual style.

And just as the men in Godfather were always cooking, here you see them doing it too, or at least one person - Maqbool himself. Its in the preparations for Abbaji/Duncan's daughter's wedding (to the Malcolm character, who's not his son in the film, another change that works) which Maqbool is in charge of. To show his devotion to Abbaji, he throws himself into it totally, making sure all the details are perfect to the extent of taking his shirt of and seeing to the spicing and the stirring of the huge vats of biriani that are being made.

And it works - Abbaji is really moved that he's making the food himself and says so. But all the while Maqbool si getting increasingly tempted by the Lady M character. And the food plays a role here too, because the blood of the goats that are killed for the biriani starts spilling over in his thoughts, as a foretaste of his hallucinations after he's done the deed. Apart from that there's also an extensive dinner sequence, which is more I think to show the Muslim tradition of communal dining from one plate.

None of this takes much away I think from the point I made earlier in this thread about the rarity of showing cooking and eating in Bollywood films. When its done, the connotations are nearly always of something earthy and not pure and that's the way it is too. The biriani and the blood reinforces that these are 'bad people' even if they're the subject of the film,

Vikram

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another good food movie (non indian) "babette's feast".

really excellent.

indian food play (not movie):

mannu bhandari's "mahabhoj" (the great feast)

it's a really powerful play with

excellent language (and great acting

when i saw it at NSD) ; the food metaphor is

almost literally done to death in it though:

e.g.s:

corrupt politician stroking his well filled belly while in

a police cell a low caste political dissenter is beaten

to death by belly blows.

beginning of play has politicians feasting while

harijan settlement is burnt down and many of the

inhabitants "roasted into kababs"

that kind of thing.

milagai

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  • 1 month later...

Not too sure if anybodys mentioned it,

One of the all time classics of telugu cinema ( theres a tamil version too), the BW movie "Maya Bazar" , a mythological based on an entertaining episode from Mahabharata has a whole song about 7 minutes long called " vivaha bhojanam" (the marriage feast) .

It has the half demon Ghatochkacha ( for those familiar with mythology ) literally singing out the menu of a traditional , royal wedding , mentioning all the delicacies in detail , and the visuals accompanying the song are equally great , its the royal kitchen of the kauravas and spread around are lavish amounts of all the dishes mentioned in the song

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