Whether you’re a foodie or not, there’s a good chance the name Tarla Dalal makes you feel good; the late connoisseur was a household name in India at that time. Dalal has written over 100 cookbooks in multiple languages, appeared on successful cooking shows, taught cooking classes, and had a sensational internet following in his later years. Actor Huma Qureshi takes the place of the famous vegetarian chef in the biopic Tarla.
The film mainly focuses on the beginning of Dalal’s journey, rising from an ordinary housewife to a household name, and not so much on his monumental success after his successful cooking show. Interestingly, the biopic begins in a classroom, with a young Tarla Dalal determined to achieve something in life, not sure what it could be – preparing a backstory for her remarkable journey. Here is my spoiler-free review of the biography.
Huma Qureshi Offers a Compelling Portrait of the Gujarati Chef
Actress Huma Qureshi (Monica, O My Darling) convincingly put herself in Dalal’s shoes, not only with her Gujarati accent and appearance, but also with her body language as she skillfully imitated the chef. She starts off as a typical housewife, busy with the endless chores of a middle-class family. Qureshi also seems to have found the right balance between Dalal’s confident, bubbly personality and the nervousness of a woman ready to challenge the deeply patriarchal model of Indian society.
Her character also brings a comedic truce to the plate, especially when it comes to her uneasiness over her husband consuming non-vegetarian food. Qureshi carefully peeled back her character’s emotional layers at a gradual pace as the film progresses.
The first half has no flavor (pun intended)
A large part of the film feels like a lighthearted children’s movie where everything seems to miraculously fall into place for the Dalal family. The plot feels pretty sappy, even with a few challenges sprinkled in here and there. Even the villainous characters with their patriarchal dialogues don’t seem too threatening at any point.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the first half feels like a simplified version of Dalal’s life story, with a predictable plot. It’s in the second half that the film takes on a more realistic flavor – almost like the metaphorical dream bubble bursts, leading to a tangled cocktail of human emotions.
A typical patriarchal porridge
As mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t miss a chance to carefully slip into typical patriarchal dialogues. From cooking being labeled an unspoken duty of women, to Indian men with their fragile egos being uncomfortable with just the idea of a woman being successful, the film has a truckload of clichés. Some of the dialogue seems to come straight from the classic Bollywood dialogue book, overused in Hindi drama films.
However, I was particularly impressed by the careful portrayal of the conditioned patriarchal attitude in women, shown in the form of Dalal’s not-so-supportive mother, brilliantly played by Morli Patel. Even though Patel doesn’t get a lot of screen time, it’s enough to get the message across loud and clear.
Speaking of patriarchy in the film, Tarla’s husband Nalin Dalal – played by Sharib Hashmi (Family Man) – brings sweet pause. His character is not afraid to fully support and encourage his partner, putting aside the shoes of the typical Indian man.
A sizzling plate of nostalgia
What I liked most about the film was the dish of nostalgia for the past, which transports the viewer to the home of a typical middle-class family in the 1960s. A lot of attention was paid to the props and scenography, from small decorative pieces, fabrics, everyday items and fashion trends, even automobiles and radio music. The art department did an impressive job on Tarla.
I found myself smiling at the popular Reynold’s ballpoint pen with its white barrel and blue cap, the dog-shaped Calcium Sandoz bottles, and the almost ritualistic crepe paper decorations seen at children’s birthday parties at the time.
Overall, the film is a serious attempt to show the story of the late Padma Shri award winner, but it somewhat misses out on the compelling flavors of a realistic biography. It covers a rather small part of his career and does not give you an idea of how big of a celebrity Tarla Dalal has really become.
Some snippets of his notable accomplishments shown might have made a stronger impact rather than just releasing them as text before the credits. If you have no idea who Tarla Dalal was, you might still not fully understand her iconic journey even after watching this movie.
I was also a little disappointed to learn that the film did not cover Dalal’s lauded culinary experiments with international cuisines, where she would give them an Indian twist. In terms of cinematography, while the movie does offer some tantalizing food shots, the foodie in me would love to see a few more delicacies on screen. All in all, Tarla is a nostalgia visual treat, and the movie will likely have you looking for Tarla Dalal recipes.