Whether or not you are a foodie, there’s a good chance that the name Tarla Dalal strikes a chord with you; the late connoisseur was a household name in India back in the day. Dalal authored over 100 cook books in several languages, featured in hit cooking shows, conducted cooking classes, and had a sensational internet following in her later years. Actor Huma Qureshi steps into the shoes of the much-celebrated vegetarian chef, in the biopic Tarla.
The film primarily focuses on the start of Dalal’s journey in going from a regular homemaker to a household name, and not so much on her monumental success after her successful cooking show. Interestingly, the biopic opens in a classroom, with a young Tarla Dalal determined to achieve something in life, not quite sure of what it could be – cooking up a back-story for her remarkable journey. Here is my spoiler-free review of the biography.
Huma Qureshi offers a convincing portrayal of the Gujarati chef
Actor Huma Qureshi (Monica, O My Darling) has convincingly slipped into Dalal’s shoes, with not just her Gujarati accent and looks, but also her body language in mimicking the chef capably. She starts off as a typical homemaker, occupied with the never-ending chores of a middle-class household. Qureshi also seems to have found the right balance between Dalal’s confident and bubbly personality, and the nervousness of a woman ready to challenge the deeply patriarchal blueprint of Indian society.
Her character also brings to the plate some comic respite, especially when it comes to her uneasiness about her husband consuming non-vegetarian food. Qureshi has carefully opened the emotional layers of her character at a gradual pace, as the film progresses.
The first half lacks flavour (pun intended)
A large portion of the film comes across as a feel-good movie for kids, where everything seems to miraculously fall right into place for the Dalal family. The storyline feels too saccharine, even with a few challenges sprinkled here and there. Even the villainous characters with their patriarchal dialogues don’t feel too threatening at any point.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the first half feels like an oversimplified version of Dalal’s life story, with a predictable plot. It is the second half that the film brings in a more realistic flavour – almost like the burst of the metaphorical dreamy bubble, leading to a tangled cocktail of human emotions.
A typical patriarchal porridge
As mentioned earlier, the film does not miss a chance to carefully slip in typical patriarchal dialogues. From cooking being labeled as an unsaid duty of women, to Indian males with their fragile egos becoming uncomfortable merely with the idea of a woman succeeding, the film has a truckload of clichés. Some of the dialogue seems to be coming straight from the classic dialogue book of Bollywood, overused in Hindi drama films.
However, I was particularly impressed with the careful portrayal of the patriarchal attitude conditioned in women, shown in the form of Dalal’s not-so-supportive mother, played brilliantly by Morli Patel. Even though Patel does not have a lot of screen time, it’s enough to convey the message loud and clear.
Speaking of patriarchy in the movie, Tarla’s husband Nalin Dalal – played by Sharib Hashmi (Family Man) – brings in sweet respite. His character isn’t afraid to fully support and encourage his partner, setting aside the shoes of the typical Indian male.
A sizzling platter of nostalgia
What I loved the most about the film was the platter of nostalgia from the bygone days, which transports the viewers to the household of a typical middle-class family of the 1960s. Close attention has been paid to the props and set design, from small decorative showpieces, fabrics, everyday items, and fashion trends, to even the automobiles and radio tunes. The art department has done an impressive job in Tarla.
I found myself smiling at the sight of the popular Reynold’s ballpoint pen with a white body and a blue cap, the dog-shaped Calcium Sandoz bottles, and the almost ritualistic crepe paper decorations seen in childrens’ birthday parties of the time.
On the whole, the film is an earnest attempt at showcasing the story of the late Padma Shri award recipient, but somewhat misses the enticing flavours of a realistic biography. It covers a rather small portion of her career, and does not quite give the idea of how big a celebrity Tarla Dalal actually grew to become.
A few snippets of her remarkable achievements shown might have made a stronger impact, instead of just rolling them out as text before the credits. If you have no idea of who Tarla Dalal was, you might still not fully comprehend her iconic journey even after watching this film.
I was also a bit disappointed to learn that the film has not covered Dalal’s applauded culinary experiments with international cuisines, where she would give them an Indian twist. In terms of cinematography, even though the film offers a few tempting shots of food, the foodie in me would have loved to see a few more delicacies on screen. All in all, Tarla is a visual treat of nostalgia, and the film will likely have you looking up Tarla Dalal’s recipes.