The crux of the narrative of Ahaa Re, directed by Ranjan Ghosh, is food in general and cooking in particular. The culinary arts present any filmmaker with umpteen opportunities to play around with sound, colour and production design through a powerful narrative. Ghosh with his third film has done just that and some more, which the film may have well done without.
Films on cookery are very few and far between in Indian cinema barring a few exceptions such as Cheeni Kum and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana that were embellished with a lot of humour and comic elements. Ahaa Re, however, takes a serious view of cooking as an unifying factor between two neighbouring countries – India and Bangladesh. An agency that brings two young people, a man and a woman, together through their unbridled passion for cooking and through all this, weaves a touching love story between a young Muslim chef and a Hindu widow, who unwittingly use their talent and their love for cooking and learning across their cultures in a story that begins, middles and ends through cooking.
The narrative moves quickly from Dhaka in Bangladesh, where Raja Chowdhury (Arifin Shuvoo) is a chef, to Kolkata in India. We get to learn how just like language, the culture of food and the cooking of it changes from place to place and so does the taste of the people used to the particular culture of that particular region. The Kolkata side is represented by Basundhara (Rituparna Sengupta) who runs a home delivery food business from her home which is delivered by her brother from door to door. Basundhara is very reticent, talks little and is committed to her marketing, cooking and readying the food for her customers. Her old father (Paran Bandopadhyay), who originally began the business, sits back and teaches magic to himself, failing every time to make his tricks work. The warmth that grows, ever so slowly between Raja and Basundhara is mainly through food when Basundhara’s home delivery business suffers a big setback due to commercial establishments entering with their multi-cuisine offers that Basundhara, specialising in Bengali food, cannot make. Raja steps in through a interchange of cooking lessons in which Raja teaches her the intricacies of Chinese and Dhaka cuisine, while Basundhara teaches him specialised Bengali cuisine.
What holds this multi-layered film together is mainly the wonderful performances by every single member of the cast. Arifin as Raja, who has a love-hate relationship with his parents and decides to move to Kolkata when his engagement breaks, is a great discovery. His looks, his delivery of dialogue flow organically through his body language. Rituparna as Basundhara lives up to the challenge of delivering a sterling performance with very little dialogue to fall back on. She turns her silences into eloquent dialogue with her facial expressions and her body language. Paran Bandopadhyay as the old man is as good as he always is. Ghosh offers a touch of welcome comic relief through Raja’s Kolkata friend (Anubhav Pal) in whose hotel he finds employment in. Pal is his hotel management classmate, who changes girlfriends every 45 days and balances the film with a striking portrayal, adding that bit of much-needed comic relief.
Ahaa Re is more a character-centric film than an incident-centric one because the story emerges from the characters – all fully fleshed out and distinct from the rest – rather than the other way round. However, Ghosh puts too many eggs in one basket and thereby, dilutes his focus on the central subject of cooking and makes the film rather lengthy. Why Raja is so displeased with his step father is not clear but the film does not demand explanation of every single item such as the old man’s passion for magic the result of which is woven within the climax.
On the technical side, Hari Nair’s cinematography is more than apt for the film. Adeep Singh Manki and Anindit Roy’s carefully designed soundtrack is filled with sounds of the spluttering of spices during the seasoning, the chopping board filled with sounds of slicing and chopping, the frying pan with sounds of stirring, frying and so on, which adds another dimension to the soundtrack. Songs are few and far between and the single Tagore song enriches the scene where it is positioned. Poetry too plays a minor role.
The emotional resonances that cooking generates between and among individuals defines the soul of the film where salt also acts as a bridge through food – the addition or subtraction of which in any item brings different reactions among different characters. All in all, Ahaa Re is truly a very feel-good and well-made film that brings in a breathe of fresh air into an ambience filled with films minus commitment or aesthetics or both.
Bengali, Drama, Color