2009, Inimitable Pictures/Sweet180
Aasif Mandvi (original play “Sakina’s Restaurant” and screenplay)
Aasif Mandvi (Samir)
Nasseruddin Shah (Akbar)
Jess Weixler (Carrie)
Dean Winters (Steve)
Harish Patel (Hakim)
Madhur Jaffrey (Farrida)
Kevin Corrigan (Stanton)
Ajay Naidu (Munnamia)
Debargo Sanyal (Pierre)
A young cook gets a life lesson through food in this really well-made adaptation of the lead star’s one-man show.
Samir is a sous chef at a restaurant run by head chef Steve. Having worked there for a few years, Samir is hoping to get a promotion at Steve’s restaurant. However, when he learns that Steve has given the promotion to a younger chef, an enraged Samir quits. Samir decides to go to France to find an unpaid internship under one of haute cuisine’s top names. However, upon his return to his family’s home, Samir’s life is about to change.
Returning to his family home in Queens, he heads to the Tandoori Palace, the restaurant his father Hakim owns. During a confrontation about Samir’s choice of career, Hakim suffers a heart attack. Samir decides to stay behind and run the restaurant in his father’s absence. However, there poses one little problem. Samir does not know how to cook Indian food. He tracks down a cab driver, Akbar, who claimed to have cooked for British royalty. Once Akbar becomes the cook, word of mouth gets around to how good the food is. Along with Carrie, a former co-worker of Samir whom he falls in loves with, Samir soon realizes that maybe the finest things in life are right at home but will he be able to fix his relationship with his father?
There is something about independent comedies in which the lead actor started as a one-man show that just spells quality. Nia Vardalos proved that with her 2002 film adaptation of her one-woman show My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Aasif Mandvi, an actor and comedian known for his work on The Daily Show, had created a one-man show entitled Sakina’s Restaurant, which earned him rave in the off-Broadway world and earned him an Obie Award. Would Mandvi get to do what Vardalos did and come up with a quality film based on this show? The answer is a resounding “Yes”.
Mandvi does a terrific job as lead character Samir, who seems to think he has it all and seems a little arrogant in the opening of the film. However, he soon gets a reality check when he is not given the promotion he was hoping for. Naseeruddin Shah proves he can make any role work and does it again here in the role of the mysterious cab driver/cook who becomes Samir’s mentor both on and off the cooking field. Shah’s Akbar becomes the catalyst for Samir’s transformation from snooty haute cuisine chef to someone who finally learns to embrace his culture when it comes to the food.
Hamish Patel is great as the very stubborn father of Samir, who goes through so much stress that he even considers a very difficult decision while Madhur Jaffrey plays the annoying mother who wants to see Samir get married and tries to set him up on a constant basis. It is when Jess Weixler’s single mother and former co-worker Carrie arrives that Samir finally finds himself in love for the first time as he continues to embrace his culture in terms of food. The comic relief comes in Office Space’s Ajay Naidu as a cook at the family restaurant who resorts to doing some very nasty habits that could attract a health inspector and Debargo Seynal is hilarious as Pierre, the assistant cook who responds “Yes” to everything he is asked.
Today’s Special is a terrific independent film about one man’s transformation to embrace his culture while maintaining his love for food while finding love in an unexpected way.
WFG RATING: A