Forbidden Tikka Masala

By Rahul Chaturvedi | Comedy
A vegetarian eats chicken by accident and can't forget the delicious taste.

Gayatri is a very strict and religious vegetarian who is retiring. But at her office farewell party, she accidentally eats some chicken, much to her chagrin. She sets about praying to atone for her mistakes and to ask her gods for forgiveness.

And yet… she cannot forget the delicious taste of that dish, and her mind is astonished that a dish strictly forbidden as immoral by her religion could taste so good. She sets about trying to find the recipe, which takes her on an inner journey that helps her rethink who she is and how she lives her life.

Writer-director Rahul Chaturvedi’s short dramedy — co-written with Luisa Alvarez Restrepo — derives its humor not from gags, pranks or surreal conceits, but from the affection and charm that arises when watching someone bump up against the boundaries of the new. The resulting friction propels Gayatri into strange new situations with strange new people, and while it’s fun to watch someone formerly set in her ways collide into a new way of seeing and thinking, it’s also richly resonant and heartwarming.

The storytelling is resolutely character-centered, with excellent care and attention paid to laying out Gayatri’s life. She faces a big transition with retirement, but her family life doesn’t look promising, with a husband and son who don’t seem to pay her much attention and often ridicule her for her interest and love of cooking and food. Gayatri’s desire to cook a great meal is as much an emotional need for connection as it is an expression of creativity and pleasure in life — and none of those needs are truly met in her life.

As she sets out to discover the forbidden yet alluring recipe, Gayatri’s world expands, and she learns to find her place and footing in a fast-paced world. The camerawork and visuals capture this section of her journey with both a liveliness and a pleasant ordinariness that is nevertheless warm and friendly — qualities that are very much like Gayatri herself.

She is portrayed by lead actor Balindar Johal with great charm, as well as a curiosity and zest for experience that awakens as she delves deeper into a hidden culinary world. As she begins to question the received wisdom that’s guided her life so far — and her idea that getting older means eschewing new interests and passions — she reawakens to the possibilities of life again.

Like many films about food, “Forbidden Tikka Masala” uses the sounds, sights and rituals of the culinary realm as a springboard to explore ideas of tradition, pleasure, togetherness and heritage. And like many films with food at their creative core, the craftsmanship creates its own feast of cinematic pleasures, from endearing performances to heartwarming, engaging storytelling that earns its emotion from truthful, bighearted attention to character. But these tropes are layered over a hopeful, optimistic story that’s essentially about reinvention and finding yourself again, no matter what stage in life you’re in — and how looking through a different lens can lead to a new lease on life itself.

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