September 5 2014
Stars of the film, ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’, Helen Mirren, Om Puri and newcomer Manish Dayal talk about food, memories and cooking skills…
By Suman Bhuchar and Sailesh Ram
STAR Helen Mirren revealed that she thinks of Indian food as ‘British fare’ and says she craves Indian food whenever she goes abroad.
Dame Helen Mirren, as is her proper title, made the comments at a press conference on Tuesday (September 2), alongside her co-stars Om Puri and Manish Dayal at Le Cordon Blue, a cookery school for classic French cooking in central London. The trio were promoting their film, “The Hundred Foot Journey” released today (September 5).
Dame Helen, the star of “The Queen” (2006) asked: “What’s British food for me? It’s actually Indian food. It’s become the marker of my home, my country and my culture – which is so interesting and I think it’s actually true for a lot of British people right now.”
Earlier, she revealed she had not been to India.
“And the really interesting thing is now when I go abroad, I crave Indian food. I have never had Indian food in India – but Indian food, it’s very difficult to find good Indian food in any country from my experience, other than in Britain.”
The film, produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and adapted from a novel by Richard C Morais, charts the unlikely journey of Hassan (Dayal) from his slightly boorish and loud family eaterie, founded and managed by his irascible Dad (Puri) in rural southern France, to Paris and the centre of the gastronomic world.
In some ways that journey is actually overshadowed by the tussle between Puri’s character and Mirren’s.
Both vie for the hearts and minds of the locals, with Madame Mallory (Mirren) running a Michelin starred classically French outlet, against Papa Kaddam’s upstart ‘Maison Mumbai’, with son Hassan (Dayal) as the talented head chef.
The journey between the two establishments is just 100 foot, hence the title of the movie, but it also encapsulates the spirit required to make it somewhere from nowhere, as Hassan strives to do.
Mixing food, culture, the tale of the underdog and romance – there is understated chemistry between Mirren and Puri in the film, as well as that more obviously served between Hassan and Maguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) – with the film evoking a certain nostalgia and longing.
“Food is memories,” says Hassan at one point in the film.
Dayal, a relative newcomer, is from South Carolina and has featured on US TV, but this is his big film break and alongside the luminous Le Bon, the couple shine and simmer.
“I read that (comment, ‘food is memories’) so many times, but it wasn’t until the end of the production that I really understood it,” said Dayal.
“In the third act of the movie, my character loses himself and he finds himself again through the people he loves and I think that is what that line means – something about a taste and a flavour that will bring you back to a memory.”
For him, it was his mother’s rice and dhal, (with a little “too much sugar” and “too few peanuts”), he disclosed.
Mirren expressed surprise that peanuts should be found in dhal and then rather mischievously pronounced: “You’re so sexy when you talk”.
Dayal speaks with something of an American south drawl.
For Puri, certain dishes remind him of certain people, such as his late mother.
“It’s true (‘food is memories’) it makes sense, for example when you think of your mother who is no longer here – and when you talk of a certain dish, you go back into a kind of flashback and it becomes a warm remembrance and you’re paying tribute to her.”
Mirren said that as a Second World War child, she never tasted chocolate because of rationing and it wasn’t until she was about four or five that she came to eat it.
“Tasting chocolate was an incredible experience and I am not a chocoholic at all, but just occasionally I get the smell of chocolate and that takes me right back to when I was four and experiencing chocolate for the first time,” recounted Mirren.
The three also spoke about their levels of culinary competence.
Puri actually cooked for many of the cast (see interview with Farzana Dua Elahe), saying it helped to bond them, and added that he had been cooking since the age of 14.
“I was a boy scout and it was one of the activities and I used to watch my mother and when we went to somebody’s house I would ask them (about the food). I enjoy cooking, I find it relaxing, it’s like doing yoga for me.”
Mirren said: “I do an incredible baked beans on toast, it is really amazing, and marmite on toast, marmalade on toast; and my cheese on toast is really excellent.”
Manish believed he was between the two of them in terms of cooking competency.
“I can do a little bit more than beans on toast, but I cannot prepare the things Omji can prepare. I can do a few things well. I would say my omelette’s pretty good.”
At the beginning, Mirren explained what had drawn her into playing Madame Mallory.
“There were many things,” she started. “I thought it was a charming story. I loved the fact that is was going to be shot in France, I’ve always secretly wanted to be a French actress and the film gave me an opportunity to pretend to be French
“And not least (because) I got that classic phone call, ‘it’s Steven Spielberg on the line’ – whenever an actor is lucky enough to receive that phone call you never believe it – but I did get that phone call, and when you get that phone call you listen.”
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, of “Chocolat” and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” fame, the film has a rousing score by Indian music maestro AR Rahman, is 117 minutes long, a PG certificate and went on general release in the UK from September 5.