BY HOOK OR COOK
A Bihari chef tries every means possible to stay on in London in a heartwarming dramedy.
SEPT 4, 2005 – “RAMJIKE PAAS HAI SAB KE LIYE MASALA,” goes the delightful song that opens Ramji Londonwaley – a remake of the Tamil Nala Damayanthi, which in turn was sourced from the Gérard Depardieu-starrer Green Card – and the lyric is as much about the man (Ramji, played by Madhavan) as the movie. If the former is a skilled cook, the latter too doesn’t lag behind in showing how the right mix of the right ingredients can serve up a burp-worthy entertainer. It’s not perfect. The tone is an often-uneasy seesaw between merriment and melodrama, but there’s an undeniable sweetness throughout – thanks largely to Madhavan’s endearing performance – that makes the film impossible to dislike. The minor irritants you just leave alone, much like you’d shove aside the seeds and the skin during a meal and continue eating.
The Bihar we usually see on screen is the Bihar of Prakash Jha, filled with crime and corruption, dirty politics and dirtier police – but here, we see the sunny, funny side of the state. When Ramji, a local, gets a job offer in London, the first item on his agenda is to get spruced up… by trimming his nose hair, in a hilariously extreme close-up no less. He goes abroad, and the rest of the movie is about his struggle to make it past the culture clash and make it there – but as uproarious as some of this is, and despite what the promos declared, Ramji Londonwaley isn’t exactly a comedy. It’s a drama with comic moments.
These people aren’t cartoon caricatures, existing just to make us laugh; they’re human beings like you and me, full of goodness and selfishness and hopes and flaws and kindness and unpleasantness. After Ramji is stranded in London – with no job or work papers – he marries a citizen, Sameera (Samita Bangargi), in order to stay on. That they’ll eventually fall in love is a given; what’s not is how long this takes. At first, she has nothing but contempt – actually, it’s more than contempt; it’s loathing – for this ganwaar, for she’s engaged to someone else (Raj Zutshi, who’s become a fine character actor of late). But this isn’t mere love-triangle looniness; these disposable man-woman relationships in the Big Western City are contrasted with the rock-solid ones back in Bihar, where a man stands by the woman he loves even if she’s married to someone else. And it isn’t like Purab Aur Paschim, where everything “here” is good, everything “there” is bad – Sameera finds in Ramji an innocence that’s absent from her life, while he admires her independence, something that was never present in his.
Director Sanjay Dayma was an assistant during the making of Lagaan, and there’s an unmistakable Ashutosh Gowarikar influence here – say, in the beautiful montage that establishes Ramji not just as a cook, but also as loving brother, helpful neighbour and tradition-upholding Hindu. But the most direct homage to his mentor is surely the emotional climax – there isn’t likely to be a dry eye in the house – which debates what’s more important: one’s heart, or one’s homeland. This may be the story of a cook, but there’s also food for thought!
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